Surge in Taxi Rides Suggests Utah’s DUI Law On the Right Track

taxi called after Utah DUI law in effectIt’s been one of the craziest controversies the state has seen in a while. Back in March Utah’s governor signed a law (not even in effect yet) declaring the legal intoxication limit for blood alcohol to be .05 BAC – lower than the nationwide limit of .08 BAC.

Loud voices, mostly prodded by lobbyists, claimed that the new Utah DUI law would do nothing to make roads safer but would catch out law-abiding citizens who have had just one or two drinks. Other effects would be crowded courts,  a wrecked economy, social upheaval, and Armageddon, or some such.

Our prediction was a bit more level-headed. We thought that once the law went into effect, we’d see

  • A few more convictions for DUI that would once have been pled down to lesser charges, and
  • More people being more careful about drinking and driving

It’s too early to test the first prediction, but the latter has already come true – even before the law has taken effect.  Both police and taxi drivers are noticing a change in driver behavior.

At least one taxi driver has reported that more people are calling for rides after evenings out drinking. Police are noticing more tipsy riders in the back of Uber cars than before. The conclusion: people are being more careful than they were before about drinking and driving. You would have to be cynical indeed to consider that a bad thing.

Why are things changing now? Probably many people think the new Utah DUI law is in effect already. Others might be doing a “dry run” for when the .05 limit goes into effect. They’re getting used to the idea of planning a ride home instead of driving after drinking. That caution is, of course, a good thing, and an indicator that lives might be saved if the caution level stays high.

And note that these people calling taxis are drinking – just not drinking and driving. So perhaps the anti-lower-limit faction can take a breather as well. All signs are that once the.05 Utah DUI law does go into effect, we’ll all still be alive. Including a few who would otherwise not be, as a matter of fact.

Walk Like MADD Detroit: Remembering Those Affected by Drunk Driving

Walk like MADD Detroit participantsThe city that put America on wheels is no fan of drunk driving. In fact, public-spirited people will be doing their part this Saturday to end drunk driving in the city and the country. Just as important, they’ll be remembering those who have lost their lives because someone made the decision to drink and drive.

The event is Walk Like MADD Detroit, a 5K walk/run through the lovely reaches of Rochester Municipal Park in Rochester, Michigan.

“The event is a memorial for the families of drunk driving victims,” says Meg Callow, Coordinator of Volunteer Resources at the Troy, Michigan MADD office. “We want the victims’ families to feel that this is a place they can come and be in a community with other people who have had a similar loss. It’s to help them can get their lives back to as normal as can be.”

Walk Like MADD Detroit: Good People, Good Cause

Among the people participating at Walk Like MADD Detroit will be Rochester firefighters and the Deputy Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, who lost a loved one to drunk driving last May. Some who have lost friends and relatives will bring signs with pictures of their loved ones. By tradition, the names of drunk driving victims will be read out. It’s a way of letting everyone know that victims deserve to be remembered.

Funds raised from Walk Like MADD will help the organization’s efforts to strengthen legislation against drunk driving. MADD”s priorities include mandatory ignition interlocks for all DUI offenses, immediate ALR (administrative license revocation) for drunk driving, and sobriety checkpoints. MADD also helps the victims of drunk driving crashes put their lives back together, and raise public awareness of the dangers of drunk driving and underage drinking.

If you’re in the Detroit area and are concerned about the dangers of drunk driving, come out for a morning 5K walk at Rochester Municipal Park. You can check out more information and register on the MADD site. You can register as an individual, join a team or create one. Any way you participate, you’ll be remembering those who deserve to be remembered, and helping keep others from becoming victims in the future.

Detroit Walk Like MADD

Date: August 26, 2017

Place: Rochester Municipal Park, Rochester MI

Time: 10:00 am to 1:00 pm (check-in 9:00 am)

For the Next 2 Weeks, US Drunk Drivers Have Nowhere to Hide

Drive Sober or Get Pulled OverPerhaps we’re exaggerating. Some drunk drivers might slip by, but it’s going to be pretty hard. All over the country, police forces have started their annual crackdown on drunk driving. Called Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over, the campaign has been adopted by municipal and state traffic law enforcement agencies everywhere in the US.

The campaign is running now, and it goes until Labor Day. The last weeks of August are traditionally bad times for drunk driving. The police will be aware of that.

Alcohol-related crashes take about ten thousand lives a year, and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is not comfortable with that figure. That is why the agency promotes the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign each year as a way not just to bag drunk drivers but also to raise awareness of the dangers of this preventable crime.

Here’s what we can all expect from police agencies everywhere in the US:

  • Zero tolerance for drunk driving. No warnings, no slaps on the wrist. Expect handcuffs, jail, fines, ignition interlocks and everything that goes with a DUI
  • Increased enforcement. Patrols will be beefed up. More officers than ever will be out on the streets and roads, looking for the signs that betray the presence of a drunk driver.
  • Getting the message out. Police presence will be more visible, and in many communities law enforcement will also be using other communication methods to popularize the idea of planning a night out and getting home safely. Look for displays, brochures, social media announcements, and ads everywhere with the message – drive drunk and you’ll pay the price.

If you’re planning a party or celebration in the next couple of weeks, please do the right thing and plan your ride home, whether through a taxi, rideshare, designated driver, public transport or by foot.

And if you’re driving in these next few weeks, please be aware. More drunk drivers will be out there, and the police can’t catch every one.

But they’ll be trying.

In New Jersey, Drunk Drivers Who Kill Can’t Avoid Prison

man in prison for DUI manslaughterThey’re called accidents sometimes, but they’re not. Drunk driving crashes that result in death are homicides, and the state of New Jersey intends to see that they are treated as such. The governor recently signed a law requiring a minimum of 3 years imprisonment for drunk drivers cause the death of others.

It might come as a surprise how varied the laws and penalties are in this country concerning those who cause death through drunk driving. Some states consider death an aggravating circumstance, like driving drunk with a minor. Others term it negligent homicide, DUI manslaughter, or vehicular manslaughter. In some states a murder charge can be brought as well.

Punishments can range from no jail or prison time at all to extremely long sentences: Maryland specifies 0 to 5 years for DUI manslaughter. Tennessee is 8 to 60 years, and North Dakota 0 to life.

States also impose fines, of course, and these can be breathtakingly large (up to $375,000 in Oregon).

Another Law Needed for New Jersey

This law will very possibly help to deter some drunk drivers, and will send a strong signal that the state does not tolerate impaired driving. However, there are many drunk drivers out there who have not killed, and will not kill, yet pose a danger to themselves and others on the road. Experience has shown that ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – reduce this danger. If all DUI offenders in New Jersey were required to use an ignition interlock – as they are in thirty other states – then more lives would be saved. As it stands, Governor Christie thinks that the current interlock law – whereby first DUI offenders only get ignition interlocks if they have a blood alcohol level of .15 or more – is sufficient. It isn’t, which is why the national trend is towards requiring an ignition interlock for all DUI offenses with a BAC of .08 or more.

It is important to deal with DUI manslaughter. But it’s just as important to get drunk drivers off the road. Prison is appropriate for the worst DUI crimes, but ignition interlocks are designed to keep all kinds of drunk drivers from reoffending.

Bereaved Parents: Time For a New Michigan Ignition Interlock Law

michinan-ignition-interlock-law-courtroomThe purposes of punishment, we’re told are five:

  • Deterrence
  • Incapacitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Retribution
  • Restitution

When a drunk driver injures or kills another and is imprisoned, some of these ends are served – others are not. The prison term might or might not make the offender think twice about drinking and driving again, and might deter some others – but not all potential drunk drivers. It will certainly keep the offender off the roads for the period of the prison sentence. Some people might emerge rehabilitated. But there is no making restitution after the death of a loved one.

Christopher Villaneuva is at the center of a Michigan case which is causing people to debate the purposes of punishing a drunk driver. Villanueva drove drunk and killed a teenager in 2001, a crime for which he spent 8 years in prison. This June he pleaded guilty to his third DUI offense, after crashing his pickup while drunk.

The judge could have thrown Villaneuva back in prison – the outcome preferred by the parents of his 2001 victim, Victor Walworth. But instead she decided to give him a chance to get his life together and rehabilitate himself before passing sentence. The sentencing has been postponed until January 10, 2018.

Who Is Punishment For?

The concern of Victor Walworth’s parents is that no one else becomes a victim of this driver.

Punishment – incarceration – serves society in this instance, as the offender is incapacitated. Did it do anything else? The judge and the defense noted that the previous 8-year prison sentence did not do the job of rehabilitating Villaneueva. Some, including the Toledo Blade, have noted that a stiff prison sentence would serve as an example to other drunk drivers. If prison won’t deter this offender, perhaps it can deter others.

Ignition Interlocks: Protection Against Repeat DUI Offenders

One thing is clear – had this offender been compelled to install and maintain an ignition interlock in his vehicle, chances are this most recent crash would not have happened. There are states that impose lifetime ignition interlock terms for serious or multiple DUIs. And in fact, the victim’s parents have been urging Michigan to adopt more thorough ignition interlock laws.

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

It will be worth following up this case, to see if a few months of rehab can make a difference. But everyone could rest easier if we had the assurance that an ignition interlock were on the job as well.

Report Rates All States on How They Fight Drunk Driving

We’ll end the suspense right away: South Dakota is doing the worst job, and Arizona the best at discouraging drunk driving. At least, those are the calculations of WalletHub, a website dedicated to financial matters. Every year the site tracks the laws of every state to see which ones fight drunk driving through tough laws, and which ones are falling down on the job. Recently the site has come out with its yearly report on Strictest and Most Lenient States on DUI.

How Best to Fight Drunk Driving?

No one law will makes a state successful at keeping drunk drivers off the roads. It takes a full suite of punishment and prevention. WalletHub assigned points to various measures and tallied up the points to find the winners. Some of the criteria were:

Punishment

Minimum Jail Time. A state got 10 points for sending first-time DUI offenders to jail for at least 10 days. For a second offense, a state would have to impose a 60-day sentence to get top marks.

Felony DUI. How many DUIs does a person have to get before theirs is given felony status, which means stiffer fines and punishments? A few states do it for the second offense, most third, and other states are even more lenient on multiple offenders.

High BAC penalties. If you’re super drunk, you should pay a greater price, says WalletHub. Some states consider a blood alcohol concentration of .10 enough for an extra slap. For others, it’s .15 or .16.

Minimum Fines. How much for a first offense? Under $200? No points. Over $1,000? You get the prize. For second offenses, double those numbers.

Prevention

Ignition Interlock. Of course an ignition interlock, a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, is a critical prevention measure. States got top points for making  an ignition interlock mandatory for a first conviction. More points are awarded for longer ignition interlock terms – at least 6 months is best.

Administrative License Suspension. If a state suspends your license upon arrest, rather than upon conviction, you’re in the winner’s circle.  The longer the suspension (120 days or more is best) the more points awarded.

Vehicle Impound After Arrest. This measure, not discussed often enough, is considered by WalletHub to be worthy of consideration when ranking anti-DUI measures.

The Winners and Losers

The five states that do the best job of fighting drunk driving, according to WalletHub, are

  • Arizona (84.09%)
  • Georgia (70.45%)
  • Alaska (65%)
  • Kansas (64.09%)
  • Oklahoma (64.09%)

The states which have the farthest to go (to put it kindly) are:

  • South Dakota (20.45%)
  • District of Columbia (22.27%)
  • Ohio (28.64%)
  • North Dakota (29.55%)
  • Idaho (29.55%)

All is Not Lost (or Won)

Keep in mind that a state might have a generally good ranking and be behind in one area. For instance, Georgia is second nationally in criminal penalties, but number 19 in prevention. On the other hand, Maryland ranks dead last in penalties, but is ninth overall in prevention. That is the reason that the states’ DUI crash statistics are not exactly in line with these rankings. New Jersey (45) is not enduring a bloodbath, and Texas (15) still has very high numbers of alcohol-related crash deaths.

We salute WalletHub for keeping us aware of how we’re doing as a nation in fighting this very preventable crime.

He Skipped DUI Class and Killed a Woman. What’s the Lesson?

crash caused by non-compliance with ignition interlock laws It’s called gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. This was the charge, and a guilty verdict resulted in a 15-year sentence for a man who killed a woman and injured five others while driving drunk.

The defendant, Johnny Mendoza, was on probation for a previous conviction. That meant he was required to take DUI classes and install an ignition interlock, which  prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

He did neither.

The Challenge: Non-Compliance with Ignition Interlock Laws

No one can say if Mendoza might not have driven drunk that night in 2016 if he had taken DUI classes, which are designed, according to the California Department of Health Care Services, “to enable participants to consider attitudes and behavior, support positive lifestyle changes, and reduce or eliminate the use of alcohol and/or drugs.”

What we can say is that had Mendoza installed a required ignition interlock, he would not have been able to start his car. He would not have been on the road that night with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of.09, above the legal limit. And he would have killed no one.

So why didn’t he install the ignition interlock?

The sad fact is that, though ignition interlock devices have been proven to reduce alcohol-related road fatalities, not everyone who is required to install one does so. States have tried to address the problem of non-compliance with ignition interlock laws, and California does have a system to deal with the crime.

DUI offenders who are in a county with an the ignition interlock program (the devices won’t be universal until 2019) receive order ID100, which is the official order to install the device. A verification form is received after the installation, and this from must be sent to the probation department. If the offender doesn’t comply, the Department of Motor Vehicles is notified, and the offender could be guilty of probation violation. That entails a hearing and possibly jail.

However, it’s clear that this defendant got away with not installing the device. Somehow he slipped through the cracks. And those cracks proved fatal to one woman.

The lesson, then, is that ignition interlock devices only work when installed, and that too many drunk drivers are in danger of repeating their crimes to take non-compliance with ignition interlock laws lightly.

California – and other states – need to find those cracks and seal them up. Lives depend on it.

An OVI in Ohio for Breastfeeding Baby While Driving Drunk

nursing leads to OVI in OhioIt’s like a trifecta of bad decisions leading to OVI in Ohio: driving drunk, endangering a child, and driving while distracted. Add to that the fact that breastfeeding while drinking alcohol is, according to experts, a bad idea, and we can conclude that the woman from Elyria was spared some heartache because she only crashed into a tree.

The important thing here is not the offender’s motivations, but what to do about offenses like these.  Let’s take the fact that the baby was in a car, not properly secured in a seat. Ohio law prohibits drivers from posing a “substantial risk to the health or safety of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support.”

A first OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) with child endangerment automatically becomes a second OVI in Ohio, leading to harsher punishment and longer sentencing.

Ignition Interlocks for OVI in Ohio

Ignition interlocks were made for cases like these.  Back in April Annie’s Law took effect. Named for Annie Rooney, a Chillicothe attorney who was struck down by a drunk driver, Annie’s law gave all drunk drivers, including first offenders, access to ignition interlock devices. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The rationale for ignition interlock technology is the fact that a certain percentage of drunk drivers repeat their crime.  Even if they don’t intend to – and swear not to – these offenders start to drink, and lose their resolve. Their inability to keep from behind the wheel is the reason that the US loses more than ten thousand people to drunk driving each year.

Ohio’s ignition interlock laws have improved, but they still have a way to go. Offenders like the woman in question should not only have the interlock, but should be faced with compliance-based removal – the device should be removed after the interlock term is up only if the offender has passed a set number of months – say four – without a failed test. Interlocks work both by preventing drunk drivers from starting their cars, and also by helping OVI offenders alter their behavior and learn to drive responsibly.

Ignition interlock laws, properly written and enforced, keep pedestrians, drivers – and their young passengers – safe.

Do Suspensions Work? He’s Been Driving Suspended Since 1995.

A big, fat license suspension for drunk driving – that’ll teach them! But it only teaches them how easy it is to drive without one. Arrest reports in every state confirm that, as a measure against drunk driving, license suspension is about as feeble as it gets.

Recently a man was arrested in Leelanau County, Michigan under suspicion for OWI.  The man had 4 prior convictions, and has not had a valid driver’s license since 1995.

He’s 49 – 22 years is more than two-thirds of his adult life.

Michigan considers a third or fourth OWI a felony, so the man in question is up for some stiff penalties, including a fine of up to $5,000, up to 2 months’ community service,  vehicle immobilization or forfeit, and — wait for it — license suspension <sigh>.

But what is obvious here is that the previous measures didn’t “take” — to many OWI offenders, a license is just a piece of paper that has nothing to do with driving. Stronger measures are necessary.

Ignition Interlocks Work Better Than Suspension

One measure that actively stops  drunk driving is an ignition interlock — a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.  Thirty states now mandate the device for first offenses, generally for a period of six months to a year. But this driver should have had a much longer term by his  fourth OWI conviction — ten years at least.

It’s natural to want to remove the driving privileges of drunk driving offenders, but this isn’t, say, Germany, where people observe suspensions strictly. The US is a nation on wheels, and people rely on cars for their jobs, school, just about everything. An ignition interlock ensures that the driver behind the wheel is sober. Other measures – fines, imprisonment, community service, OWI education, probation – are available as appropriate consequences.

But it’s time to acknowledge that license suspension for drunk driving doesn’t work. That’s why Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is stumping for ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders in all 50 states.

We have a technological fix for OWI that protects the public, and our first goal should be putting it to use.  Ignition interlocks work. Suspensions don’t.  There’s no reason to be using outdated measures when there’s a more effective one available to us.

Driving Drunk in Your Own Driveway? It’s a Crime in Michigan.

drunk driving not ok beyond this pointDrunk driving is drunk driving – no escaping the consequences. But in your own driveway?

It’s a good enough question that Michigan called upon its Supreme Court to answer it.  Back in 2014 police in Northville, Michigan answered noise complaints at a house, and spotted the occupant in his Cadillac, driving out of and then back into his garage.

When he was found to be intoxicated, he was arrested on OWI charges, even though he never left his driveway.

The question: was the driveway merely private property, on which motor vehicle laws do not apply? Or was it, as the law states and the prosecution maintained, “generally accessible to motor vehicles” and thus a place where drunk driving should not be allowed?

The Michigan Court of Appeals had ruled in 2016 that a driveway is not generally accessible, and so the defendant was exonerated. But the case didn’t die there – the prosecution appealed. And now the Michigan Supreme Court has weighed in: there is no place that someone can get away with drunk driving. Not even their own driveway.

The majority opinion hinges on the meaning of “generally accessible.” A person’s driveway is not open to the public, but the public can access it despite not having permission to do so. The judges ruled that nothing prevented a member of the public from driving into the defendant’s driveway and being confronted with a drunk driver.

So is the issue settled for all time? In Michigan, perhaps. But others might argue, as dissenting judges did, that the law was not intended to cover driveways. After all, if “generally accessible” means “physically accessible,” then what areas are not covered by that. You can drive a car just about anywhere.

Still, the case is a good indicator of where drunk driving law is heading, in Michigan and elsewhere. Never has the public, legislators, and the courts been less sympathetic to drunk driving. That attitude has made roads safer. And driveways too – at least in Michigan.

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