EDITORIAL: State must stand by DUI law
Our View: Oklahoma’s new, tougher DUI penalties, which begin today, are a demonstrably effective tool for combating drunken driving.
Someone dies from an alcohol-related accident every 50 minutes in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With the new law going into effect today, Oklahoma is trying to do something about it.
Oklahomans will now face tougher penalties for driving drunk. An ignition interlock device — which disables a vehicle until the driver passes a built-in Breathalyzer test — will be required on the cars of convicted inebriated drivers, for 18 months for a first conviction with 0.15 blood alcohol content or more, and for four years on a second conviction with blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater.
These stronger requirements (especially the money involved in these devices) will help deter drunken driving and lessen repeat offenses — a Centers for Disease Control report showed that interlocks reduced repeat offenses by an average of 67 percent — but some states with similar policies have felt a backlash.
Similar laws have been passed in 12 states, and 16 states have even harsher requirements, according to a fact sheet compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In one of those states, New Mexico, the interlock requirement led to a 60 percent reduction in repeat offenders, according to a 2008 study by the Pacific Institute For Research and Evaluation. In Arizona, drunken driving fatalities decreased 41.6 percent from 2005-2009, according to the 2010 report from the Governor’s Office.
But despite this progress, which clearly illustrates the effectiveness of strict punishments, Arizona lawmakers passed a bill in April to lessen the required punishments across the board. Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said this law was intended to lessen the impact of punishments on first-time offenders and save the taxpayers money. He said the harsh punishments damaged lives and families.
What about the lives and families damaged by the 10,839 drunken driving deaths the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration predicts for this year? What about the evidence that harsh punishments reduce repeat offenders and deadly accidents?
We understand the need to save money in law enforcement, and we’re never in support of knee-jerk, emotional reactions in the legal arena. But it’s irresponsible to ignore a method that has been proven effective in lowering deaths and deterring crimes.
Drunken driving is a serious and often deadly offense. And it is just as dangerous whether this was the driver’s first offense or third. In fact, a 1997 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that the average first offender will have driven drunk 87 times before he is caught and is likely to drive drunk again.
Until a better rehabilitative approach is offered, states can at least focus on lowering DUI rates and preventing deaths. We hope Oklahoma stands strong against any future criticism of these requirements and isn’t as willing as Arizona to sell out the safety of its citizens to save a few tax dollars.
Comment on this at OUDaily.com