Kansas and Its Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad DUI Bill

bad Kansas DUI billLegislators are debating a new Kansas DUI bill that should be trashed immediately. If passed, it will do nothing for the state except put more drunk drivers on the road.

State Senator David Haley wants to revise the current Kansas DUI law, which requires that all drunk driving offenders, including first offenders, must use an ignition interlock during their suspension. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Haley introduced a new bill – SB 123 – which would allow an offender to “wait out” the suspension without an interlock – in other words, allow the offender not to drive for a year instead of installing the interlock.

License Suspension: A Feeble Measure

The problem with the bill is that license suspensions don’t work well enough to protect the public from repeat DUI offenders. Since 1977 a number of studies have shown that a large percentage of drivers – one study puts it at 75 percent, others at 50 – ignore suspensions at least once in a while. Those with serious alcohol problems will be more likely to drive while suspended. They will be impaired and uninsured.

Letting offenders “wait out” a DUI suspension is an invitation for them to repeat their offense. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), among other road safety advocates, are against a wait-out provision and have mounted a petition against SB 123. Interlocks have been proven to reduce DUI recidivism.

Double Jeopardy – A Feeble Argument

Senator Haley contends that the current law, which specifies a year of interlock, even if one has chosen to be suspended for a year beforehand, is double jeopardy – two punishments for the same crime. But double Jeopardy is intended to guard against more than one punishment when two statutes punish the same conduct. So if a person is charged with both assault and assault with a deadly weapon, a judge cannot impose punishments for both crimes if the defendant is convicted.

In this case, the suspension and ignition interlock are both specified punishments for the same crime, just as fines and jail time are in some cases.

Pass a Stronger, Not Weaker, Kansas DUI Bill

If this Kansas DUI bill gets out of committee and is passed, the state will be reversing a forward-looking drunk driving policy. Instead, legislators should be trying to institute compliance-based interlock removal, in which the device is not removed until the offender has passed a number of months without a failed test.

Drunk driving is a sticky problem. Over the years it has become less fashionable and less common, but it still claims some ten thousand lives every year in this country. Kansas – and every other state – needs to be working on ways to bring down the number of alcohol-related road deaths, not weaken laws that are already saving lives.

Should A Jury Be Told That a Driver Was Drunk?

DUI civil damages in NebraskaImagine you’ve been hit by a car, and your life has been changed forever. Surgery, pain, emotional trauma, financial devastation. It’s happened often enough, and the civil court system exists to help you get some compensation for all that suffering. So you sue.

But imagine the jury can’t be told that the driver was drunk at the time of the crash. Would the DUI civil damages settlement reflect the reality of the driver’s wrongdoing?

In Nebraska, it happens that way. Under present law, if the driver admits he or she was negligent or at fault, the jury cannot be told that he or she was driving drunk. The reason for the law is a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that bars DUI evidence in civil trials. Nebraska does not allow punitive damages, and defendants may not be held liable for more than loss of income and other costs that the victim incurred as a result of the crash.

It seems obvious to victims that DUI civil damages settlements would be larger if the jury had the vital missing fact that a driver was intoxicated, and a Nebraska legislator agrees. State Senator Carol Blood has introduced Nebraska LB 84, a bill which, if passed, would allow juries to be told if a driver being sued for damages was drunk.

Victims have spoken in favor of the bill, as have some attorneys, but there are those who still believe in withholding DUI evidence in these civil cases.  Their concern is that such evidence might get the jury too worked up – it might prejudice the jury against the defendant, and result in awards based on their general feeling about drunk driving rather than the facts of the case.

So the Nebraska legislature will debate large questions: are facts prejudicial? Does giving the whole picture of a drunk driving crash actually result in an unfair award to the victims? And is the goal of speeding the court system by encouraging defendants to admit guilt worth keeping juries in the dark about a critical aspect of the case they’re considering?

The fact that some worry that the information will cause prejudice against the defendant is a sign that there is less and less tolerance for drunk driving in Nebraska as everywhere else. Ultimately, that is good for the state, no matter whether or not LB 84 is passed.

One Officer Raised Reno DUI Arrests 40%. A Law Could Do More.

Reno police have reported that DUI arrests in the city are up. The reason – a third full-time DUI signed on last October. Since then DUI arrests have climbed 40 percent over the same period in 2015.

This is good news for Reno’s sober drivers and pedestrians, who have another vigilant police officer watching out for them. Any measure that takes drunk drivers off the roads is a boon to public safety.

Ignition Interlocks: More Protection at a Lower Cost

While arresting drivers under the influence is vital work, it’s not the only way to get impaired drivers out from behind the wheel. 29 states now have laws requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, including first offenders. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Because they immobilize drunk drivers before they pull out from the curb, ignition interlocks save lives every day. In fact, a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that ignition interlocks not only prevented offenders from reoffending – they also functioned as a deterrent for those who might otherwise choose to drink and drive.

And while police officers need to be paid a salary, ignition interlocks are paid for by the offender directly.

The Nevada legislature is now debating a law which would give all those arrested for DUI the option of voluntarily installing an interlock before their trial.

It’s not as thorough as an all-offender interlock law, but it will get the ball rolling. Once the state sees the downturn in repeat DUIs from increased interlock installation, perhaps the next step will be to join the majority of US states and pass an all-offender ignition interlock law.

Who knows – maybe there will be less work for those three Reno officers in a few years.

AAA Idaho: Ignition Interlocks Needed to Reduce Road Crashes

If there are two things AAA knows, they would be drivers and cars. And the Idaho chapter of the organization, which has been helping motorists for well over a century, has issued a statement urging states to use technology to keep drunk drivers out of those cars. Their solution: ignition interlocks, devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Recently the AAA issued a press statement in response to some distressing news:

Idaho’s impaired driving crash fatalities increased 20.8% in 2015. In fact, impaired driving claimed four in every ten road fatalities, with an impaired driving crash resulting in a fatality every 4.2 days.

ignition interlock - Annie's Law“Public education and enforcement programs are not enough to turn the tide,” according to AAA spokesman Matthew Conde. Since standard penalties do not seem to be keeping impaired drivers off the roads, technology is the answer. AAA supports mandating ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses, including first offenses.

The statement cites a recent study which shows the effectiveness of the devices:

An American Journal of Preventive Medicine study shows that state laws requiring interlocks for all drunk driving offenders were associated with a 7 percent decrease in BAC>0.08 crash fatalities.

Another review tackled the problem of DUI recidivism and found impressive results:

The CDC conducted a systematic review of 15 studies on IIDs, and found re-arrest rates for drivers who were required to have the devices installed in their vehicles decreased by a median rate of 67 percent compared to drivers with suspended licenses.

The upshot of AAA Idaho’s statement: law enforcement catches drunk drivers one by one. Ignition interlocks prevent drunk driving on a wide scale.

The AAA intends to work with legislators on behalf of all motorists, who want safe roads for themselves and their families. Their objective is to get more states to pass all-offender ignition interlock laws. Currently 29 states have such laws, but the organization is hoping to build the momentum needed to turn the legislative tide – and stem the tide of alcohol-related road deaths that has hit Idaho so hard.

Mass. Drunk Driving Arrest: Pickup Had Just 3 Tires. Whoops.

drunk driving with no tire in Mass.Observant drivers can be a great help to law enforcement. Such as when a motorist in Becket, PA noticed something was not right with a truck going down Jacob’s Ladder Road. When a police officer was called in, he found that the truck was operating minus one tire.

What kind of driver would drive on 3 tires? An impaired one.  The driver was booked for OUI.

You can add this to the file of amusing drunk driving stories. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think for a minute about what it means to be so intoxicated that you ignore the screeching of a wheel on asphalt –a sound that the police officer said sounded like a “snowplow.”

If you can ignore that, you can ignore a car in the opposite late, or a person walking along the road, or a child at an intersection. In short, you are a menace, and it’s very fortunate if an alert citizen is able to spot you can take you out of action before someone gets hurt.

The point? The driver probably thought he was “okay to drive.” That’s the problem with alcohol: it not only makes you a bad driver, it makes you unable to judge that you’re a bad driver.

No one goes out on the road thinking that they’re a danger to other people. That is why the vigilance of others is vital. Police can’t do it alone. If you think you’re seeing drunk driving, call 911. You’ll be doing the right thing. Here are some ways you can tell.

  • Weaving
  • Hitting the curb or veering into oncoming lane
  • Driving too slowly, or changing speeds erratically
  • Nearly striking an object or vehicle

 

Of course, if the car or truck has 3 tires, you’re also advised to make the call. Chances are something is indeed wrong.

Wisconsin Man Gets 5th OWI While Suspended. No Interlock?

ignition interlocks needed in wisconsinWisconsin again – a state that has one of the most stubborn drunk driving problems, and a curious lack of will to address it. A recent arrest highlights the ease with which offenders skate through a series of OWIs with few repercussions.

Recently a man from Delavan was charged with his fifth OWI. At the time his driver’s license was revoked. Moreover, he was supposed to have an ignition interlock installed in his vehicle. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

A fifth OWI in Wisconsin is now a felony, thanks to a law passed last year. As a result, the offender, Neal B. Ottow, faces fines of up to $10,000 and a year in prison if convicted.

But what’s important here is that this last arrest need not have happened. Ottow was supposed to have an ignition interlock installed last April. Had the device been in his car, he wouldn’t have been able to start it after drinking. That is the purpose of the interlock, after all.

Then why wasn’t the device installed? Unfortunately, like a number of states, Wisconsin has the habit of ordering ignition interlocks but not following through on making sure that they are installed.

Ignition Interlocks: Safety Technology Works if You Work It

Ignition interlocks are designed to keep roads safer by taking drunk drivers directly off the roads. They don’t punish drunk drivers – their purpose is purely preventive. And they have been proven to reduce alcohol-related road deaths.

However, in order to work, the devices must be installed. That part of the process is often the most fragile in a state’s system. A judge or DMV gives the order for an interlock to be installed, and the license is suspended, and no further checking is done. Often when the interlock period is over the offender can reapply for a license, having never gotten an interlock.

In a properly administered ignition interlock program, an offender can never “wait out” the interlock period. Washington State is an example: you can only get your license back after you have had the ignition interlock installed, used, and removed after the proper amount of time. Moreover, you have to go a certain amount of time without a failed test in order to have the device removed. This is called compliance-based removal, and it helps weed out hard-core repeat drunk drivers.

The best system uses sobriety courts, in which a court-appointed supervisor oversees the probation of the offender, ensures that the offender goes to counseling sessions, and also keeps track of the test data from the ignition interlock. Sobriety courts have very high compliance rates, and are successful in curbing recidivism.

Time For Wisconsin to Step Up

The first step for Wisconsin is for legislators to understand that the problem is not going to get better without action, and that a solution already exists – ignition interlocks – that has been proven successful in other states. The next step is to beef up ignition interlock compliance to get some of those repeat OWI offenders off Wisconsin’s highways.

Has a Michigan Man Driven Drunk More Than 1000 Times?

Not long ago a police car pulled over a car in Mount Clemens, Michigan after seeing the driver run a red light. A conversation with the driver revealed him to be intoxicated, so he was booked for OWI.

The driver, Zenon Bialokur, also had a suspended license. In fact, he’s had his license suspended a lot of times: 12, to be exact. And he’s been convicted of driving despite suspension 10 times.

And on top of that, he has 13 OWI convictions.

Let’s take the last one first. No one gets arrested every time they go out driving drunk. Most of the time time they manage to evade the cops by sheer luck. According to one statistic, a drunk driver drives impaired 80 times before he or she is arrested.

If that’s the case, then those 13 OWI arrests might –might – have been the result of a thousand drunk incidents of drunk driving. A thousand chances to cause injury or death on the road.

Of course, we don’t really know how many times Bialokur drove drunk beyond the number for which he was arrested. Perhaps none, and he was just unlucky every single time he drank and drove. Unlikely, but it’s possible.

Moving on – the 10 convictions for suspension tell us two things. First, Michigan is not bringing its “A” game to the fight against drunk driving, a subject that we’ve discussed before.

Michigan: Slacking on Drunk Driving

In particular, the state has not joined the 29 others that now require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses. They also do not criminalize the refusal of a sobriety test, and does not even provide immediate administrative revocation of licenses for drivers arrested for OWI, as most states do. If suspension is the only tool in the box, and it’s not working, then something needs to change.

Suspensions: A Feeble Measure at Best

We said the 10 convictions for driving under suspension tells us two things. The second is that license suspensions don’t work. Mr. Bialokur is merely the most recent and dramatic example. It’s just too easy to get back behind the wheel of a car if all that’s preventing you is the lack of a piece of paper.

Ignition Interlocks: Intervention That Works

What stops drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel are ignition interlocks – car breathalyzer devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. They’ve been proven to reduce alcohol-related road deaths, and when compliance-based removal is part of the program – i.e. they are not removed until the offender has passed several months without a failed breath test – they have been shown to reduce recidivism and aid rehab programs as well.

Michigan could look at the measures that other states have used to curb drunk driving. Or they could keep on suspending licenses. How’s that been working out? Ask Mr. Bialokur.

Mississippi’s Scarlet Letter: Should We Shame Drunk Drivers?

shame drunk drivers with license plateRep. Gary Chism has a thing for drunk drivers. He clearly doesn’t like them. A year ago the Republican from Columbus introduced a bill in the Mississippi House which is known as the “Scarlet Letter Driving Under the Influence Act.” Simply put, its purpose was to shame drunk drivers.

He’s introduced the bill again. If it passes, any motorist convicted of a second DUI would have to have a yellow and red license plate put on his or her vehicle, marking the driver as an offender.

The bill also calls for a $50 fee which would go into the state’s ignition interlock fund. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The fund supports interlocks for offenders who cannot afford the monthly fees required to maintain a device.

While the bill does use the term “Scarlet Letter” – a reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel about the shaming of an adulteress in colonial America – the purpose of the plates is not just to shame drunk drivers. The plates would also cause law enforcement officers to take more notice of vehicles with the plates, thus preventing more drunk driving incidents.

Ohio OVI Plate

Ohio OVI Plate

Some states have experimented with DUI plates. Iowa tried it and gave it up, as did Oregon. Georgia has them, but it’s by number, so only police officers know if a particular vehicle bears the stigma. Only Ohio has a genuine “Scarlet Letter” OVI plates.

The smart money says that the Mississippi Scarlet Letter bill won’t go through, at least, not this time. One suspects that a year from now Rep. Chism will make another stab at it. And he is on the right track, trying to discourage drunk driving by making it unfashionable.

But the dismal showing of such shaming legislation across the country suggests that there might be better ways to make roads safer. Mississippi already has an all-offender ignition interlock law. Perhaps working to ensure that all offenders comply with that law would be a better move. Making current measures stronger might be a better strategy than introducing a new one – especially one that doesn’t seem to get a warm reception anywhere it shows up.

Minnesota Torture Threat: Justin Bieber Prevents Drunk Driving

Bieber drunk driving tweetIt all started in Wyoming, Minnesota around last Thanksgiving. The Wyoming PD decided to tweet a threat to its citizens to keep them on the straight and narrow over the holiday weekend, at least as far as impaired driving went.

The idea was taken up by other police forces for publicity’s sake. Now the Wyoming PD had another brainstorm. For Super Bowl Sunday they chose a punishment they thought was worse even than the excruciating manufactured boy band:

The tweet pretty much won the Internet for a few hours, but that isn’t why we’re saluting the officers. The real story is that no drunk drivers were picked up that night in the town. So perhaps the message is getting through.

We don’t think anyone takes a threat like this seriously. But it might have kept the idea of sober driving in the minds of locals that day. And any method of discouraging drunk driving is a welcome addition to the arsenal.

Provided it stops here. There are limits to what a person can take, after all.

Everybody Loves to Analyze this BMW Drunk Driving Ad

Your Hump-day Recess: BMW ‘s Cerebral Drunk Driving Warning PSA

BMW drunk driving psaIn the ad world, there’s something called “rationale.” It’s a paragraph that an ad agency writes when they submit an ad to a client. The purpose of the rationale is to explain why the ad should work.

So – why do drunk driving ads work? That is, if they do at all.

For generations, ad copywriters have been trying to get into the heads of drivers and shove a wedge of common sense in between the desire to drink and the need to drive.  They’ve tried scaring motorists by telling them what they have to lose. PSAs commonly show scenes of mayhem resulting in lost loves, lost friends, lost jobs, lost money, lost reputation…

And yes, lost limbs. A few years ago Leo Burnett created an ad for BMW with a simple message: drive drunk and you could lose your leg. Because it’s by a big agency, and presumably they wanted to win a lot of awards, the message was presented with a dollop of wit.

And there’s nothing wrong with messages like this – they are true, after all.  Apart from the 10,000 lives that alcohol claims on the road each year, impaired driving crashes cause injuries by the thousands and leave countless lives devastated.

Ad bloggers love PSAs like this, and not because the message is true, but because it’s so beautifully and cleverly presented.

They love to analyze the modes of persuasion and tell you how successful it is at making its point. Note that no blogger every writes that they gave up drinking and driving thanks to the ad – just that they admire the typeface or the clever interplay of text and visual.

The question remains: does it work just because it’s clever? Has anyone every decided not to drink and drive just because he or she saw a really witty ad?

Don’t get us wrong – we’re not against drunk driving PSAs. Far from it. But we think that they’re a small part of the anti-impaired driving landscape. They allow companies and institutions to proclaim their support for sober driving and contribute to the climate in which it becomes increasingly unpopular and unfashionable to drink and drive. Years of cultural change, bolstered by legislation and good law enforcement, have made the real difference.

Still, we look forward to ads like this, which give us new ways to think about the insanity of impaired driving. They don’t take the place of ignition interlock laws or DUI patrols. But they give us something to think about. And write about.