Why Are US Road Death Rates Higher Than Other Countries?

us road death rates higher than other countriesEvery year the Centers for Disease Control bring Americans some good news and bad news in the area of motor vehicle safety.

The good news is that fewer people are dying on US roads than they used to. The bad news is that other countries are eating our lunch in the contest to see whose roads are safest.

Why is that? The main reason 32,000 people died in US car crashes in the US last year were:

  • Drunk driving
  • Not using seat belts, car seats and booster seats
  • Speeding

It’s hard to figure out which of these is the most preventable. Looking at them on the page, they all seem ridiculously easy to avoid.

But why do other high-income countries have fewer fatalities per passenger mile? Among the reasons the CDC offers are:

Aggressively enforced seat belt laws. Police can stop and ticket vehicles in which driver or passenger are not buckled up. US seat belt laws, which are state laws, are all over the place.

Some only cover minors or small children, and some laws only mandate that people occupying the front seat use seat belts. A more thorough approach, perhaps with federal incentives, might help bring road deaths down.

  • Lower BAC levels. The US considers anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or over legally drunk. Many countries have an .05 or .02 level, and it’s enforced aggressively.
    In fact, the US ranks second highest among high-income countries in crash deaths due to alcohol – 31% of all road deaths (Canada is the winner at 34%. Sweden, with its .02 BAC and use of ignition interlocks in fleet and government vehicles, is at 19%).
  • Safety technology. Some countries require ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – to be installed whenever there is a drunk driving conviction. Currently just 27 states have such laws here, and compliance is spotty.
  • Vigilance. Other high-income countries seem to be on the lookout for drunk drivers and speeders. Sobriety checkpoints are common, as are red-light cameras.

These comparisons yield the CDC’s recommendations. To reduce the number of alcohol-related road fatalities, the agency recommends we follow the example of other advance countries and

  • Expand sobriety checkpoints
  • Enforce existing .08 BAC laws and underage drinking laws
  • Consider ignition interlocks for DUI offenders – including first offenders

These recommendations seem far from impossible. Many states are tackling these problems on their own. But federal incentives on matters like ignition interlocks would go a long way toward saving lives. It worked before with seat belts and crash tolerances. It could work again with the next generation of automotive safety technology.

Why does Wisconsin Have So Many Drunk Drivers?

This article contribution by attorney Andrew Mishlove comes to us from the offices of Mishlove and Stuckert, Attorneys at Law.

wisconsin drunk driversI was interviewed by the Wisconsin Law Journal, on the topic of why Wisconsin has so many drunk drivers, since there is (yet again) a series of proposals in the legislature to toughen Wisconsin drink driving laws. It’s well-known that Wisconsin has about double the rate of drunk driving arrests than the national average. I’m proud to defend people accused of drunk driving; because I believe in due process of law and the presumption of innocence. I have also seen the damage caused to decent people by Wisconsin’s failed system of drunk driving law enforcement.

So why does Wisconsin have such a terrible problem? The answer is simple: politicians are not willing to do what it takes.

Wisconsin, more than other states, has a culture of alcohol, and a legal system that attacks the symptoms, rather than the problem. The system protects the alcohol industry, while punishing the drinker. Finally, we have the complete failure of our system of non-criminal first offense prosecutions, that cannot be reduced or amended.

Unlike other states, Wisconsin has no “dram shop law.” Dram shop laws hold tavern keepers responsible for over-serving patrons. So, if I am visibly drunk, and the bartender keeps serving me – and then allows me to drive away, the tavern could be held liable for any damages that I cause. Right now, the only time a tavern-keeper can be held liable is if he serves a minor. This is deplorable. Other states have dram shop laws that work very well, and the tavern industry has adapted to it. Wisconsin’s history in this regard is shameful.

In 1849, Wisconsin passed its first dram shop law, requiring tavern-keeprs to provide financial support for drunkards. That didn’t last too long, since Wisconsin was always an anti-temperance state. Today, Wisconsin operates under Wis. Stat. sec. 125.035. This statute was passed in 1985, in response to a Wisconsin Supreme Court case that recognized dram shop liability for tavern-keepers. See Koback v. Crook. Rather than consider the problem of drunken-driving, the legislature enacted a statute granting civil immunity to tavern-keepers who serve visibly drunken patrons. It doesn’t matter how drunk I am. You can keep serving me in Wisconsin, without fear of having to pay for the damages. So, while the legislature panders to the tavern lobby, individual legislators thump their chests about being tough on drunk driving.

Do not think that the legislature is concerned with the principle of individual responsibility — the argument that the individual who drinks too much is responsible for his own behavior, and no one else should be held to account. In theory, from a moral point of view, that might be a good argument. It fails to consider, however, the impact that it has on the occurrence of drunk driving. I’m confident that the family of any victim of a drink driving homicide takes very little comfort in knowing that our state provides immunity to negligent tavern-keepers, because we protect the principle of individual responsibility . In fact, the argument is utterly hypocritical; since Wisconsin has a statute that make it a crime to serve a visibly drunken patron, but still provides civil immunity. Wis. Stats. 125.07(2). It’s not about morality, or public safety; it’s about the money. While it may, on the surface, look tough to provide a criminal penalty; in fact, the criminal prosecution under this statute is so rare, that is simply doesn’t matter. In 35 years of practicing law, I have never seen a single occasion where anyone has been charged with this offense. No one cares about it. It’s a sham. If the legislature really wanted to deter drunk driving, they would repeal civil immunity for tavern-keepers.

Wisconsin is the only state in which first-offense drunk driving is a civil traffic ticket. In every other state, first offense drunk driving carries at least the possibility of a jail sentence. So, we have the most lenient first offense law in the country. However, we have a law that limits, if not prohibits, negotiation, amendment or reduction of a drunk driving charge. So, our lenient law is very strictly enforced. This system is unique, and it is a complete failure. In most other states, first offense drunk driving is a much more serious offense, but the accused may avoid the consequences by going through a first-offender’s treatment program. A bigger carrot with a bigger stick. This system works far better than ours. So, why don’t we have it? Simple. The answer is, once again, money. Right now, there are almost 20,000 first offense prosecutions per year in our state. Many of them are prosecuted under municipal traffic laws, in municipal traffic courts, by municipal prosecutors. If Wisconsin were to adopt a more rational system, we would have to move those cases to the circuit courts, where criminal cases are heard. That would require hiring more prosecutors, and judges, while at the same time the local authorities would no longer have the revenue from fines imposed. Effective alcohol education programs are also expensive, and the state has been unwilling to fund them. Again, the legislature wants to thump its chest about being tough on drink driving, but is not willing to actually do anything effective.

All of this has an enormous cost. First, Wisconsin has far more drunk driving than other states. Second, decent, hardworking people who make a single mistake, have their careers and lives destroyed by a drunk driving prosecution, with no real first-offender program.

Who Knew? GM Invented the DUI Ignition Interlock in 1970.

Your Hump-day Recess: A Swing and a Miss at DUI Prevention

Everyone in 1970 was aware that drunk driving was a serious problem, but no one knew what to do about it. That year, the NIH tells us, alcohol took about 31,000 lives on the nation’s roads. Booze figured in more than 60% of road deaths, and two-thirds traffic deaths among 16- to 20-year-olds.

Meanwhile, car safety was improving. Just a few years after losing the mandatory seat belt battle, the Big Four awoke to the idea that there was value in being seen as pro-safety.  In 1970 General Motors developed (but never marketed, to our knowledge) a kind of prototype of today’s ignition interlock. The device required a driver to reproduce a series of numbers that flashed on a screen by punching corresponding buttons. If they messed up (say, because they’d had nine Harvey Wallbangers), the car wouldn’t start (click photo to enlarge).

(click to enlarge)

Why didn’t GM’s device take off?

If this device could really keep drunk drivers off the road, why does nothing remain of it, apart from a press photo? Most likely the federal government wasn’t stoked about GM’s discovery, and car companies generally didn’t push safety devices unless compelled to. It was legislation that made seat belts, head restraints, crashworthiness standards, and center brake lights universal.

Mostly, though, GM’s device failed because the idea was bad. The designers didn’t really understand how drunk drivers operate. Certainly it takes concentration to repeat the number sequence, but that isn’t enough to prevent a determined drunk to get on the road, for two reasons:

  • Drunks, particularly experienced drunks, are resourceful. Many people over the .08 blood alcohol limit can force themselves to concentrate for the few seconds it takes to complete the test. True, someone totally smashed – say, .20 BAC or more – would fail, but that still leaves a lot of dangerously impaired drivers who could pass the test. And though they might get it together long enough to punch out the five numbers, they couldn’t stay alert long enough to drive safely.
  • A driver could start the car while sober and then begin drinking afterwards. Or a sober passenger could take the test in place of the driver (notice that in the photo the demonstrator is in the passenger seat). Back in 1970, when drunk driving didn’t have anywhere near the stigma that it does today, getting a friend to do “curb service” would be easy. Does that sound stupid? Remember, these people wore plaid pants and platform shoes.

What worked: the ignition interlock

A better technology made GM’s dream come true a few years later. In the 1980s California started a pilot program for devices which used breath alcohol ignition interlock (BAIID) technology. The new devices measured actual intoxication, rather than physical coordination, which made more sense and worked more efficiently.

Apart from keeping a drunk from starting the car, ignition interlocks also keep a sober driver from getting drunk after starting the car, because of something called a rolling re-test. The driver must breathe into the device periodically while driving, to ensure that he or she is still sober. Interlocks these days can be equipped with cameras as well, to ensure that the one taking the test is the driver. Images and data are downloaded and reviewed by monitoring authorities to ensure that the offender is complying with the interlock regulations. You could never require someone to re-punch numbers while driving: that’s the Achilles’ heel of the GM device.

Upshot – Will Interlocks Become Standard on All Cars?

Alcohol related crash deaths are down dramatically from when this photo was taken: from 31,000 to about 10,000 victims. Alcohol has also gone from causing two-thirds to one-third of road fatalities each year. While that’s progress, it’s still a terrible waste of life. All over the world governments and road safety advocates are looking for ways to bring that number down to zero.

Often one hears that ignition interlocks should be mandatory on all vehicles. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) supports the idea. But such a development is far in the future.

What is clear is that ignition interlocks should be used for drunk driving offenders, including first offenders. A recently report by MADD and a study by the University of Pennsylvania were the latest evidence that the devices reduce DUI recidivism and alcohol-related road deaths. So far 27 states require ignition interlocks for all offenses. Some other states have similar bills working their way through the legislature.

General Motors had other car safety ideas in the 1970s, including airbags, which took off. But back then the time wasn’t right for a technological solution to drunk driving. Kudos to GM for trying, though. There are worse things than being ahead of your time. Such as not adopting a life-saving technology when it actually works.

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.
Previous Hump Days: a German Ignition Interlock spoof from 1960, our Top 10 Worst Crash Tests, a different kind of Anti-DUI message, Budweiser’s dogged anti-DUI campaign, How Not to Dodge a Parking Ticket, the world’s worst traffic jams, a dramatic buzzed driving PSA , an offbeat ad from New ZealandVince and Larry, our favorite crash test dummies, some excellent Soviet anti-drunk-driving posters, a lesson on how buzzed driving can ruin your love life, South Australia to Drunk Drivers: Grow Up!, a woman calls 911 to report herself for DUI, Felix the Cat and Drunk Driving,  DUIs who crash vintage cars – (ouch!), Woman Unwittingly Creates Self-Driving Car, A Brilliant PSA from Australia, a Road Safety Message in a Vodka Bottle, a PSA about binge drinking that is decidedly “meh,” Drunk Driver Crashes $4 Million Car, Drunk Driving in 1910, a Superb New Think! PSA from the UK,Drunk Driving in 1955: New Breath Test Technology Will Save the Day!, the Best Animated Gifs About Drunk Driving, Angle Parking: A Surreal DUI Stop Photo, a Hertz Advertisement that Could Have Used Another Set of Eyes, a Laugh Out Loud Anti-Drunk Driving Ad, and How to Beat a Breathalyzer with Peanut Butter … Not!

Chicago DUI Arrests Down 50%. What’s Going On Here?

chicago dui arrests down 50 percentIn charting drunk driving trends, every year matters, but decades matter more. It takes a while to spot a trend, but a lot of people think they’ve found one: Chicago DUI arrests were down about 50 percent from 2005. In that year, some 6800 people were handcuffed and brought in for drunk driving. Last year it was about 3300. These figures come from an annual survey released by the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, an Illinois organization which has been fighting drunk driving since 1982.

Nice going, Chicago. But what did you do that was so right?

A lot of factors are being given credit. One is Uber – even though that company only started in 2009 and didn’t arrive in Chicago until 2011.

More plausible are speculations that awareness of drunk driving and its prevention has been growing. Chicago police conduct roadside sobriety checkpoints, which not only catch drunk drivers, but serve as warnings to all who see them that impaired driving doesn’t pay.

Drunk driving is as socially unacceptable as it’s ever been since the invention of the automobile. Chicago seems to be doing a good job keeping the anti-drunk-driving message alive through public service campaigns.

Beyond Chicago, Illinois has made great progress in lowering its rate of traffic deaths, having kept its total below 1000 since 2009. Currently, about 32 percent of those deaths are alcohol-related.

Illinois also has a well-managed ignition interlock program which does not offer preferential treatment to any offender, regardless of location. Car breathalyzer devices are known to reduce DUI recidivism, so it is certainly possible that yesterday’s drunk drivers are sober on the road today.

Finally, it’s possible they are off the road altogether. Chicago is one expensive city in which to own a car: parking can set you back $1,000 a month. Given the city’s superb mass transport system, many Chicagoans are ditching their cars altogether and hopping on the El. That works wonders for the drunk driving situation.

Like many municipalities around the country and the world, Chicago has set a goal of zero deaths on the road. It’s an ambitious goal, but the right one. Cars and roads will get safer, and  eventually some better technological solutions to distracted driving will arrive. But reducing the toll of drunk driving deaths will remain a challenge.  Let’s hope Chicago keeps showing the country how to do it.

Oklahoma Official Suspended for DUI. Why is He Driving?

driving despite oklahoma DUI suspension - why?Just a few weeks ago Oklahoma’s Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger lost his challenge to a 2015 DUI. As a result he lost his driving privileges for six months.

Doerflinger is back behind the wheel already. What’s going on?

It’s not a backroom deal, if that’s what you’re worried about: no sacks of cash left under car seats or other offers the judge couldn’t refuse.

What the court did was standard procedure on Oklahoma’s law books: it granted Doerflinger permission to drive, provided he do so with an ignition interlock device. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

For the next 18 months the device will keep him off the road should he decide to drink. Yet the interlock will also allow him to do his job. Oklahoma allows anyone whose license has been suspended to apply for a hardship exemption. If the terms of the suspension mean the offender has no other means of transportation, and this will result in hardship, then a change can be made.

It was a good decision. The Secretary lives in Tulsa but works about a hundred miles away in Oklahoma City. As a result of the interlock order, he is able to do his job, but the public is protected from another incident of drunk driving.

Ignition Interlocks: Better Than License Suspension

Ignition interlocks are valuable, and not just in hardship cases. They are preferable to license suspensions, particularly long ones, because:

  • Suspensions simply don’t work. Half to three-quarters of suspended drivers drive anyway. That includes a lot of impaired drivers who will be uninsured.
  • Suspensions have damaging and counter-productive repercussions. If you take away offenders driving privileges, you might also be taking away their job, scuttling their education, and rendering them unable to provide for their family. Laws and punishments should serve social goals, not create social problems.

Some people are resistant to the idea of ignition interlocks instead of suspensions because it doesn’t seem a punitive enough measure. But that’s a short-sighted way to look at things. Offenders who use ignition interlocks don’t reoffend while the device is installed, and it costs the government little, since the fees are borne by the offender. Other measures, such as fines or community service, can be added when it’s clear that punishment is advisable.

But neither Mr Doerflinger nor others under an Oklahoma DUI suspension are “getting away” with anything if they are driving with ignition interlocks. Quite the opposite: they’re being held strictly to a promise of sober driving, and are being tracked and recorded to ensure that the promise is kept. Not a bad use of technology, all told.

New Mexico’s DWI Death Rate is Dropping. That’s No Accident.

new mexico's drunk driving deaths downA governor’s intentions are revealed by her actions. Clearly New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez intends to bring down the number of New Mexico’s drunk driving deaths. And it looks as if she’s been doing it.

A few months ago it was revealed that last year alcohol-related road deaths had plummeted 28 percent from the year before, and were at a 36-year-low.

Part of the reason is ENDWI, a dedicated program created by the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) to educate the public on the dangers of drunk driving.

Recently Governor Martinez has announced a new PSA in the series. The new ad shows the tragic consequences of drunk driving from the point of view of a surgeon who must try – and sometimes fails – to put back together the bodies of DWI victims.

Martinez is a tireless activist on the DWI front, and she is under no illusion that the ad alone will reduce New Mexico’s drunk driving deaths. A recent initiative involved pursuing and bringing to justice 100 DWI fugitives, increased saturation patrols, and tougher penalties for all drunk drivers.

What keeps some legislation from passing is the cost, which is understandable: prison in particular is an expensive proposition for the state. That is why New Mexico should make the most of its already-tough ignition interlock legislation, by ensuring compliance by offenders and judges. Unlike prison, ignition interlocks (car breathalyzers) prevent a drunk driver from reoffending and also place the cost where it belongs, on the offender. The same cannot be said of prison, which places a large burden on the taxpayer.

A drunk driving PSA, no matter how well done, is just a part of the solution. Strong legislation and good enforcement of DWI and ignition interlock laws is a much bigger piece of the anti-DWI puzzle. It looks as if the Governor of New Mexico is determined to solve the puzzle once and for all.

Yet Another Drunk Driver Tries to Swim to Freedom.

There are trends that change the way people drink, and trends that change how police and courts will deal with a drunk driver from one year to the next.

But trends in drunk driving? Particularly, drunk drivers trying to escape the law?

You learn something every day. Not long ago a man in Québec attempted to evade arrest for DUI by jumping in a river. It didn’t work.

Now a man in Michigan tried to flee a drunk driving arrest by jumping in a lake.

Did we miss the memo?

Police were searching for a drunk driver after a call had come in. The officers spotted  Ted Arocha buying beer at the Gin Mill Party Store in White Lake. When they tried to apprehend him, he broke away and took off for Pontiac Lake. He jumped in and started swimming.

Amazingly, the police decided not to give up and go home. Instead, they hid out on the pontoon boat belonging to a couple of local citizens who sailed out to pick up the fugitive. When the men pulled Arocha out of the water, the police stood up and arrested him. The suspect made another attempt to reunite with Pontiac Lake, but was kept from doing so.

We’re not sure what makes a fully-clothed swim in a cold body of water so enticing to drunk drivers. Certainly the water was available in both cases, but is that enough? If the arrest happened in Hawaii, would they have jumped in a volcano?

A better guess is that the diving expedition was the last in a line of bad decisions fueled by alcohol– the decision to drink too much, the decision to drive, and the decision to stop and get more beer.

What comes next will depends on Mr. Arocha’s record and the judge’s discretion. Fines, license points, and possibly an ignition interlock requirement are in the offing. Of those, the interlock will help prevent the driver’s bad decisions from getting this far again.

We hope this isn’t a trend, but if another suspect decides to flee a DUI via H2O, we’ll keep you posted.

1960s Drunk Driving Film Doesn’t Pull Punches

Your Hump-day Recess: Fatherly DUI Advice from Robert Young

As more cars came on to US roads in the 1950s, the threat of drunk drivers became more and more difficult to ignore. The curious idea of equipping bars with parking lots unleashed a tide of misery and death that no drunk driving film is seriousamount of policing could contain. If you couldn’t catch them all, public safety experts concluded, perhaps you could teach them. Thus began a campaign of education to convince people to stay sober behind the wheel.

This public service drunk driving film from around 1960 is fairly typical. It’s the story of a man named Tom who, thanks to his overconfidence and carelessness, manages to injure a good friend and lose his own leg in a drunk driving crash. The film is notable for an epilogue delivered by the actor Robert Young, fresh from a 7-year stint as television’s most famous father.

Note – the first 30 seconds are choppy, but it settles down from there. 

The film doesn’t hold back: we’re treated to the sight of Tom as an amputee, his bandaged stump frighteningly evident in an early scene. In this sad story there is no narrow escape for Tom, although *** Spoiler Alert *** his friend Jim doesn’t die.

drunk driving film from 1960sWhat’s interesting about this drunk driving film is where it stands on alcohol limits. The narrator states that at a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 some people are impaired, and at .10 all drivers are affected. Those numbers represent on average two and four drinks respectively.

Nowadays we’re less concerned with variation in individual alcohol tolerance. A BAC of .08 is the legal limit, though some activists insist that .05 is a safer level.

Also interesting is Robert Young’s message: “Drinking before you get behind the wheel is simply another bad driving habit.” Today this would be considered a colossal understatement, but Young was delivering the message at a time when people tolerated drunk driving. There were no absolutes in the public mind back then: you were fit to drive if you thought you were fit to drive. The filmmakers – educational firm Charles Cahill and Associates – probably believed that portraying such a common practice as dangerous, reckless, and criminal would repel the audience. They simply weren’t ready to see their beloved drunk driving as all that wrong.

In his book One for the Road Dr. Barron Lerner states that films like these did not make much of a dent in public perception. It would take years more for drunk driving to be seen as a public health problem, and the process of making drunk driving unfashionable would take decades longer. To this day not all US states are on board with strong DUI laws, sobriety courts, and ignition interlock requirements.

So what we’re looking at is a first strike at drunk driving: a blow that didn’t land, but which shows how much some people wanted to fight. We’re glad they kept on punching.

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.
Previous Hump Days: a German Ignition Interlock spoof from 1960, our Top 10 Worst Crash Tests, a different kind of Anti-DUI message, Budweiser’s dogged anti-DUI campaign, How Not to Dodge a Parking Ticket, the world’s worst traffic jams, a dramatic buzzed driving PSA , an offbeat ad from New ZealandVince and Larry, our favorite crash test dummies, some excellent Soviet anti-drunk-driving posters, a lesson on how buzzed driving can ruin your love life, South Australia to Drunk Drivers: Grow Up!, a woman calls 911 to report herself for DUI, Felix the Cat and Drunk Driving,  DUIs who crash vintage cars – (ouch!), Woman Unwittingly Creates Self-Driving Car, A Brilliant PSA from Australia, a Road Safety Message in a Vodka Bottle, a PSA about binge drinking that is decidedly “meh,” Drunk Driver Crashes $4 Million Car, Drunk Driving in 1910, a Superb New Think! PSA from the UK,Drunk Driving in 1955: New Breath Test Technology Will Save the Day!, the Best Animated Gifs About Drunk Driving, Angle Parking: A Surreal DUI Stop Photo, a Hertz Advertisement that Could Have Used Another Set of Eyes, a Laugh Out Loud Anti-Drunk Driving Ad, and How to Beat a Breathalyzer with Peanut Butter … Not!

New Tennessee DUI Law: Judges MUST Order Ignition Interlock

new tennessee dui law requires ignition interlocksIf you were driving sober this last holiday weekend – as we hope you were – you might not have felt the effect of the new Tennessee DUI law, which took effect this July. But many drunk drivers will.

Mandatory Ignition Interlocks

The most important law concerns ignition interlocks – car breathalyzers which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Tennessee has had a law ordering the devices for all DUI offenders – the best possible law – but there’s a problem: compliance has been low.

According to the former law, a judge had to supply a reason for each offender to have the interlock, before it could be installed. This led to poor compliance rates – around 20 percent. That meant that the vast majority of DUI offenders had nothing preventing them from reoffending.

The new law compels judges to supply a reason if they don’t want an offender to have an ignition interlock. It is assumed, therefore, that the interlock is a good idea and should be mandated for all drunk drivers. Since states which enforce their ignition interlock laws have lower rates of alcohol-related fatalities.

Catching Multiple DUI Offenders

Another new law requires that when a drunk driver is arrested, his or her fingerprints will be sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Upon conviction, those prints are sent to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The idea is to prevent repeat drunk drivers from falling through the cracks.

Chasing down multiple DUI offenders is not just a legal housekeeping problem – it’s a matter of life and death. Repeat offenders are subject to more penalties, including jail time and an ignition interlock requirement after license reinstatement. Repeat DUI offenders are responsible for the majority of drunk driving collisions and deaths, so it is vital that they do not evade the justice system because of a simple oversight.

Our congratulations to Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), sponsor of the ignition interlock law, and Senator Mark Norris, (R-Collierville), sponsor of the multiple offender measure. We expect to see a downturn in road fatalities thanks to these two dedicated legislators. Tennessee DUI law has never been in better shape.

Why Senate Bill 1046 is Right for California

Law Would Reduce Drunk Driving – And Other Crimes Too.

California Ignition Interlock Law is Right for the StateA very important California ignition interlock law is working its way through the state assembly. This vital road safety measure – called SB 1046 – would require ignition interlocks – car breathalyzers – for all drunk driving offenses.  Currently 27 states have such laws, and more are on the way, for the simple reason that the laws work. States which require all DUI offenders to use an ignition interlock for a period after their conviction see a downturn in alcohol-related road fatalites.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Why License Suspensions Don’t Work

Currently the most common way to deal with a drunk driver in California is license suspension. Suspension is not effective for most people, in particular the most dangerous drunk drivers. One study  found that 75 percent of those with suspended licenses continued to drive.

It’s not hard to see why suspension is a feeble measure: essentially, you’re doing nothing more than telling an offender not to reoffend. Too many DUI offenders will get back on the road, unlicensed and uninsured. And many of those will still be drinking, since people who don’t respect the idea of a license don’t have much regard for legal blood alcohol limits either.

The Perils of Unlicensed Drivers

Using suspension as a mainstay of DUI enforcement has a number of dangers. In addition to the lack of liability insurance and the possibility of impairment, there is a greater likelihood that a fatality will occur. A California study of unlicensed drivers found that:

Compared to licensed drivers, those who drive without a valid license are nearly three times more likely to cause a fatal crash relative to their exposure.

Hit-and-run crashes are more likely as well, since a suspended driver who hits another car or person, even when blameless, is going to be tempted to flee.

Ignition Interlocks – Bringing Offenders Home

When DUI offenders have ignition interlocks in their vehicles, they are in a system which can monitor them and ensure that they are not endangering others by driving while intoxicated. The interlock device also allows them to get to work, go to school, and obtain needed counseling and treatment – things which would otehrwise be difficult in car-dependent California.

Why The Resistance?

Every bill encounters some resistance on its way to law, though it’s worth noting that the California Senate passed SB 1046 by a unanimous vote.

So who isn’t on board?

  • Those who consider ignition interlocks too severe a “punishment” for a first DUI offense. In fact, an interlock is a public safety measure, not a punishment. It’s the only measure apart from imprisonment which actually prevents a driver from drinking and getting back on the road.
  • Those who are concerned with alcohol sales. When people are prevented from driving with alcohol in their systems, they might not order a lot of wine and beer at a meal. Fari enough, but do we want bars and distilleries making California’s DUI enforcement policy?

Who Is On Board with SB 1046?

The entire State Senate, road safety advocates, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, California Medical Association, California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, NTSB, the Safety Council, and a host of other organizations support the bill.

It’s a clear choice. Passing Senate Bill 1046 will not only reduce drunk driving fatalities and injuries in California, but will also reduce hit-and-runs and enable more repeat offenders to seek treatment. Californians who care about road safety will want to contact their legislator and help this vital legislation get on the law books where it belongs.