The D.C. Council unanimously changed a law Tuesday that had allowed police officers to arrest motorists for driving with expired tags.
Chairman Kwame R. Brown introduced the legislation on an emergency basis to amend the section of a law that he said “caused many people to scratch their heads in amazement.”
His bill, introduced at the request of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, replaces criminal penalties for driving an unregistered vehicle with a graduated scale of fines.
News reports of recently arrested drivers — including a teacher and a psychologist — caused a stir in recent weeks, prompting AAA-Mid Atlantic and Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, to call on the mayor to end the practice.
“We haven’t heard the number of untold stories of arrest for simple error and not registering a car before the expiration date,” said Mr. Brown, a Democrat.
Mr. Brown said his legislation is an attempt to rectify a decades-old law and should not be considered as criticism of the Metropolitan Police Department.
The council’s action makes driving without a valid registration for up to 30 days punishable by a $100 fine. A violation after 30 days will result in a $200 fine and the vehicle potentially being impounded.
Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said police may still arrest drivers with expired tags if they are found to be in violation of other laws during a traffic stop.
“It is clear that the District is out of step with other jurisdictions with regard to how they treat people whose only infraction was that they were driving with expired tags,” said Mr. Mendelson, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.
Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said the city became aware of the issue earlier this year and did not act only because a senator highlighted the issue.
Mr. Wells, chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation until mid-summer, said he was looking into the issue after two known incidents in the spring.
He said he assisted the teacher, who lives in his ward, when arrested on a Friday evening so she would not spend the weekend in jail.
The pediatric psychologist was from Maryland.
“Her husband didn’t know where she was,” Mr. Wells said.