Wisconsin Supreme Court Tackles the
Toughest DUI Problem: Repeat Offenders

Many law-abiding citizens find it hard to believe that a person could be convicted for drunk driving three, four, or five times. Surely people will learn their lesson after one conviction, or possibly two. How could someone be so resistant to reform?

jamesfisherThe sad fact is that such people exist. A few weeks ago a man in Albuquerque was arrested for the thirteenth time on a drunk driving charge. In May, a Delaware man has his twelfth DUI arrest, about a year after emerging from prison for what was presumably his eleventh.

Chronic DUI offenders are an unimaginably serious public menace. Confronted with fines, warnings, threats, reason, and counseling, they ignore them all and continue to drive while drinking. Recently the Wisconsin Supreme Court confirmed that the public’s patience is wearing thin. Chronic DUI offenders with seven convictions must now spend at least three years in prison.

The court case began when Clayton Williams, a seven-time offender, thought that his three-year-sentence was too harsh. He won an appeal to be re-sentenced, but the Supreme Court upheld the original sentence.

This is just owisconsin-capitolne step in a journey that Wisconsin has been more reluctant than most states to make. Of all 50 US states, only Wisconsin issues a civil traffic ticket for a first DUI offense. Other states impose fines, jail time and mandatory ignition interlocks. The idea is that to drive drunk is to endanger the public, and such endangerment is not to be treated lightly. Wisconsin’s leniency has earned it notoriety among anti-drunk-driving activists.

Progress is being made in Wisconsin. One hopes that the state will eventually recognize the threat that all drunk drivers pose, not just chronic ones, and follow the trend that has made roads in other states safer for everyone.

The Interlock at 22: A Safety Success Story
Part 2: Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr.

You’re safer today on the highways than you were twenty years ago, and if you live in New York State, you have Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. to thank for that. During his tenure as a Republican member of the New York State Senate, Senator Fuschillo worked tirelessly for stronger DWI laws. His efforts were vital to the state’s success in reducing the number of drunk driving accidents on the roads. From 1998 to 2013, Fuschillo represented New senator_fuschillo_smYork’s 8th State Senate district, which spans parts of both Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island.

A strong set of ignition interlock laws were among the legislation that Senator Fuschillo promoted and helped get passed. Currently New York requires ignition interlock devices for all DWI offenders.

“It was really a no-brainer,” says Fuschillo, noting that he encountered little resistance to interlock legislation. “We were looking for a tool to rid our streets of individuals who choose to be irresponsible.”

Statistics have shown a measurable decline in alcohol-related fatalities after ignition interlock laws are introduced. Has Fuschillo noted any changes himself?

“I’ve noticed a change in the thought process of individuals – no one wants to get arrested, or have a mandatory ignition interlock system in their car. But statistics in New York are still way too high; people are still choosing to drink and drive. Hopefully as time goes on, with strong anti-DWI laws and ignition interlock devices, the numbers will decrease.”

With interlock laws in place, Senator Fuschillo worked with the legislature to sew up some important loopholes. Offenders had been choosing to transfer their car’s title to another family
Fuschillo-quotemember and not drive at all (or, most likely, drive without a license) rather than install an ignition interlock device. Now one can no longer “wait out” one’s suspension in New York State. “Whenever you get your license back, you’re still going to have to get an ignition interlock for a period of time. There’s no way around it anymore.”

Though interlocks are growing in acceptance, some states instead promote alcohol abstinence programs as the primary method of addressing impaired driving. But Fuschillo contends
that interlocks are vital. “Drinking and driving is really the problem. We’re trying to prevent people from getting in the car and driving drunk –that’s where the ignition interlocks are important.”

Now that Fuschillo has left the State Senate to become CEO of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, it remains for others to take on the cause of making New York roads safer. That will mean continuing to strengthen the state’s DWI laws – including ignition interlock laws, which he says are “critically important in the fight against drunk driving.”

This is Part 2 of the series The Interlock at 22: A Safety Success Story. Part 1 can be found here.

Can The Owner of a Bar Be Sued
If a Patron Drinks and Drives?

After Eduardo Chua was struck by a drunk driver in Nashville, Tennessee, he decided to sue the people that harmed him: the owners of the bars that served the drinks that got the driver intoxicated.

Two bars — Kelly’s Karaoke and Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar — are defendants in his lawsuit. They could be liable for Chua’s medical expenses and other damages.

Dram shop laws: bar owners can be sued if customers drink and driveThe question of how much liability a bar or restaurant bears for a drunk-driving patron is getting a lot of attention lately. The statutes involved are called dram shop laws, and all states have them to one extent or another.

Courts for many years resisted the idea of holding drinking establishments responsible for the crimes of drinkers. But as anti-drunk-driving legislation became a prominent cause of organizations like MADD, states began passing laws holding vendors liable to some degree or another.

Invariably, the topic of personal responsibility comes up when dram laws are discussed. Why should a tavern be liable if a customer decides to drink too much? By all means punish the one who chooses to drink and drive, but bar owners are just doing their job. It’s up to individuals to make the right choices.

There is, however, an argument against “personal responsibility” — society’s responsibility. We, as a society, have to live with the choices that these people make. Waiting until people are injured or killed just isn’t an option for those whose priority is saving lives. When dram shop and social host laws spread the responsibility around society, more people end up on the job preventing alcohol-related crashes. And there is evidence that these laws work.

However this lawsuit turns out, perhaps its very existence will cause Tennesseans to be more vigilant in keeping drunk drivers from destroying lives.

What Brought Down the Skagit
River Bridge? A Cell Phone.

A little over year ago in Washington State a section of bridge collapsed when a truck with an oversize load rammed the superstructure. No one was seriously hurt, but three vehicles did fall into the Skagit river. One look at the mass of torn metaBy kdingo from Seattle, US (DSC03352) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commonsl makes it obvious that the accident could have been much worse.

Things like this are not supposed to happen. Why didn’t the driver realize his load was too high for the bridge?

The National Transportation Safety Board has just reached a conclusion about the collapse. Some of the causes included inadequate markings on the bridge, bad route planning, and a poor permitting process. But there was some serious negligence on the road that day as well.

As it turns out, driving in front of the truck was an escort vehicle, equipped with a pole that was used to verify that the bridge was high enough for the load to traverse it. A witness in a nearby truck said that the pole struck the bridge four or five times.

Why, then, did the escort vehicle driver not stop the truck and avoid a collision?

Because she was on a cell phone.

Records show the driver had made five calls in the 30 minutes before the accident, and was on the phone at the time of the collapse. The NTSB concluded that “The pilot/escort vehicle driver was distracted by her hands-free cell phone conversation, which reduced her attention to her escort duties.”

A recent Harris poll shows that people are texting and talking on cell phones while driving, even though they know better. The Skagit River Bridge collapse is a dramatic reminder of just how unsafe distracted driving is.


Your Hump Day Recess:
Vintage CHP Anti-DUI Poster

Vintage California Highway Patrol anti-DUI poster with great slogan:

Vintage CHP anti-DUI poster

Car historians might recognize the police cars as SSP Mustangs, ones which appear to date from the 1987-1993 period.

Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.

By Mandating Ignition Interlocks,
Annie’s Law Will Save Lives in Ohio

Every day in Ohio many people choose to drink and drive, and one person dies. Sometimes it is the drunk driver who is killed. Other times it is another driver, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian. The death is always needless, tragic, and preventable.

Annie Rooney of Annie's Law, requiring ignition interlock devices

Annie Rooney, killed July 4th, 2013 by a drunk driver in Ohio

Some Ohio legislators want the deaths to cease. They have drafted Ohio House Bill, known as Annie’s Law, to change the way the state deals with drunk drivers. Named after Annie Rooney, who was killed by a drunk driver a year ago, Annie’s Law would require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, including first-time offenders, with an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater.

An ignition interlock is a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the drivers BAC is over a pre-set limit. Currently 25 states have laws on the books requiring interlocks for all offenses. Statistics show that ignition interlocks are more effective than license suspension, since 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers will continue to drive even with a suspended driver’s license. Laws such as Annie’s Law prevent drunk drivers from reoffending, and thus save lives.

At a recent press conference at the Ohio State House in Columbus, National Safety Council Vice President John Ulczycki said, “We recognize that ignition interlocks are annies-law-should-go-on-the-booksproven effective in reducing drunk driving.  We encourage Ohio to pass Annie’s Law to require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers who wish to continue driving during their suspension.  Legislators and governors do not have many opportunities to take action that saves lives.  This is one of those times.”

The bill will be taken up again in the autumn when the Ohio Legislature reconvenes.


The Interlock at 22: A Safety Success Story
Part 1: Birth of a Standard

The ignition interlock device has been around for a long time. This life-saving technology, which prevents drivers from starting their cars if they’ve been drinking, goes back to 1969. However, it took states quite a few years to adopt legislation that took advantage of the devices.

The first pilot programs were promising, but there were bugs to iron out: accuracy had to be improved, and authorities needed a means of preventing circumvention. That meant making the devices tamper-proof, and more ignition-interlock-device2important, creating a way to test the driver’s breath periodically during the journey — not just at the start.

Finally, authorities needed a way to monitor drivers to make sure they complied with their restrictions. Because of these concerns, many legislators were unsure that interlocks were a reliable solution.

Things changed in 1992. That year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) brought out a set of standards for ignition interlocks, outlining everything a device needs: proper sensitivity, the ability to make rolling retests (i.e. test drivers while they’re driving, and not just at the start), and recording test data for authorities to monitor.
The 22 years since the adoption of NHTSA standards have provided the USA with one of its greatest public safety success stories. Well over a dozen studies show that ignition interlocks prevent DUI offenders from re-offending, taking drunk drivers off the roads and reducing the mayhem they cause.

It’s not just the ignition interlocks that prevent thousands of drunk-driving accidents each year — it’s the laws that mandate the use of those interlocks. For these laws, we can thank many legislators, activists, law enforcement personnel and other people in public service who took on the cause of combating drunk driving.

In the next series of posts we will hear from some of the people who helped popularize, pass and strengthen ignition laws, as well as those who enforce them. If you have driven on America’s roads in the past 22 years, you might even owe your life to them.

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on the impact of the ignition interlock on road safety since NHTSA standards were laid down in 1992. Part 2 can be found here.

A Wake-Up Call for Drowsy Drivers

You don’t take drugs. You drink rarely. And you’d never, ever get behind the wheel if you have had so much as a tablespoon of beer. That’s how careful you are about keeping yourself, your loved ones and the roads free of danger.

But you might still be a menace to public safety. Have you ever:DrowsyDriver-300x200

  • gotten behind the wheel after a hard day’s work that followed a bad night’s sleep?
  • forced yourself out of bed and into a car because you just had to be somewhere that morning?
  • found your attention flagging so that you drifted onto the rumble strip on the highway?

Many otherwise conscientious people who would never dream of driving drunk — who are proud of their adamant refusal to drive even after a single glass of wine — nevertheless think nothing of driving while fatigued and sleep deprived. Somehow, it seems less risky. But the facts are that drowsy drivers have:

  • poor motor skills
  • poor vision
  • slow response
  • impaired judgment

Flare by Dvortygirl - license <a href"http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">CC 3.0</a>In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that drowsiness causes no less than 100,000 accidents every year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths.

No doubt you’ve tried to wake yourself up using some common strategies. A recent study by the marketing company DMEAutomotive found that drowsy drivers fight fatigue most often by drinking caffeinated drinks. This works for a while, but coffee will not drive off drowsiness completely or for very long. Other strategies tired drivers use include:

  • opening windows
  • play loud music on the stereo
  • turning up the air conditioning
  • splashing water on your face

Unfortunately, these tactics have little lasting effect: after a few minutes you will still be as much a hazard on the road as a driver who has been drinking. The good thing is that, unlike drinkers, you have a relatively quick cure at your disposal: pull over and take a nap. Sleeping for at least 20 minutes, and up to 3 hours depending on how tired you are, will set you right.

Now one more piece of bad news: drivers under 35 tend not to avail themselves of naps, preferring instead the ineffective methods above. Maybe it’s time to talk to your teen about drowsy driving.

Virginia Attacks Drunk Driving
Head-On — With Dramatic Success

In an area as fraught with tragedy as drunk driving, it’s good to hear some encouraging news. Virginia is reaping the success of a ten-year program to dissuade people from driving under the influence of alcohol.

As the Virginian-Pilot reports it, DUI fatalities have dropped 21 percent since 2005, and crashes related to drinking are down 30 percent overall. Drunk driving in Virginia is becoming an increasingly unpopular pursuit.

Virginia DUI Laws Save LivesPart of this improvement is certainly due to a series of laws passed years ago that stiffened penalties for drunk driving: mandatory jail terms, license suspension, and making refusal of a breath test by a convicted DUI offender a criminal offense. Moreover, Virginia is one of 25 states that require ignition interlocks for all DUI convictions, including first offenses. Ignition interlocks prevent a car from starting if the driver has been drinking.

These toughened laws have caused formerly reckless people to think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking, lest they provoke an increasingly wrathful state.

Legislators have had help from society at large, which has shifted its attitude towards drunk driving from amused toleration in the 1960s to mildRights when Pulled Over disapproval to a strong condemnation that has robbed drunk driving of any appeal it might once have had. Organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have been strong advocates for road safety; NHTSA and other governmental and nonprofit agencies have contributed valuable research that helps convince skeptics that impaired driving is incredibly dangerous.

And those organizations have not relaxed their vigilance. Christopher R. Konschak of MADD’s Virginia office notes that, while the state is doing better than it was in 2004, last year 253 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes. “Courts need to do a better job of using the laws that we have worked so hard to get in place,” says Konschak. First offenders usually get a $250 fine and no jail time. If the fine were raised tenfold and a year of jail time added, “it would make others think twice before they drive impaired.”

Thanks to some strong laws put into effect ten years ago, many of Virginia’s drunk drivers felt the consequences of their foolish decision before they had a chance to injure or kill someone. We salute the lawmakers and law enforcement personnel who have helped keep more Virginians alive on the roads.

Your Hump Day Recess – Animals in DUI Court

It’s a time-honored strategy: deny everything, and blame somebody else.

If the scapegoat is really a goat (or other animal), all the better. They’re unlikely to testify against you.

Last week a man in Texas blamed his vehicle crash not on his drinking — though he had been drinking — but on a turtle, a cat and a squirrel.

And the tree. Of course the tree was at fault.

The man claimed that he swerved to avoid the forenamed animals and crashed into a tree. The police, who were unable to locate any cats or turtles, charged him with drunken driving. The tree was questioned and released.

Animals blamed for DUI
In other news, a Georgia man charged with DUI claims innocence. Police found his dog in a car at a grocery store parking lot on a very hot day. The man said he hadn’t been driving – the dog drove him to the grocery store at which his vehicle was found. He was nevertheless charged with drunk driving and animal cruelty.

Is that any way to treat your designated driver?

Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.