Police in California will have a New Year's jolt for people who are caught driving without licenses: say good-bye to your car for a while - and perhaps forever.

The toughest state laws in the country aimed at illegal drivers go into effect Sunday, the legislative response to hundreds of accidents every year in which people have been killed or seriously injured by motorists with suspended licenses or no licenses at all.Under two measures signed by Gov. Pete Wilson in September, lawmakers bypassed proposals to raise fines for offenders in favor of an approach that has apparently succeeded in scattered localities - seize violators' cars.

California's Department of Motor Vehicles estimates that more than 1 million unlicensed drivers, out of a total driver population of 20 million, regularly get behind the wheel. With so many unlicensed drivers flouting the law, some state officials expect the strict new laws to have widespread fallout.

"When you start seizing cars, people are going to be in an uproar," said DMV researcher David DeYoung. "This is going to take a lot of people by surprise."

Until now, police could confiscate an offender's car, but they could hold it only until a friend or relative with a valid license showed up. The new laws increase the punishment dramatically, even extending to people who knowingly allow unlicensed drivers to use their cars.

Among major provisions of the new laws:

- People caught driving for the first time with a suspended license or with no license face arrest and 30-day impoundment of their cars. After towing and storage charges and administrative penalties, impoundment charges could exceed $1,000.

- In perhaps the harshest step of the crackdown, offenders with a record of illegal driving convictions face permanent seizure of their cars. The autos will be sold at auction, the proceeds defraying towing, storage and administrative costs.

- Unlicensed drivers nabbed for the second time within five years no longer will be able to avoid jail. A judge previously could waive a 10-day jail sentence. Now, the sentence will be mandatory.

- People who knowingly lend their cars to unlicensed drivers face prosecution, a minimum fine of $300 and possibly jail. The step was taken to keep offenders whose cars have been confiscated from continuing to drive with borrowed vehicles.