After 30 Years’ Drunk Driving, He Kills. Take His License???

Charles Cahill proves license revocation does not work
Sumpter Township Police Department

Twelve OUI convictions. 24 license revocations, and 17 suspensions. Seven crashes. Charles Cahill Jr. was a time bomb that finally went off. Not long ago the 49-year old man, who had 30 years of drunk driving experience, killed a young girl in Sumpter Township, Michigan. Speeding, with a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit, Cahill slammed into a minivan, killing 12-year-old Victoria Mack.

Apart from the driver’s sheer criminality and disregard for human life, this case is a dramatic example of the reason for this blog’s very existence: license suspensions don’t work.

Yet on news sites, in the comment section, you’ll read statements like “Take away his license for life!”

We don’t – and shouldn’t – take suggestions made in comments sections too seriously. But the number of people calling for suspensions and revocations when reading about drunk driving arrests or crashes shows that people still think that taking away someone’s license is a good way to combat impaired driving.

It isn’t.

license-revocation-problemTrue, some people are shocked and shamed enough at having their license lifted that they obey the order not to drive, and to reconsider drinking and driving.

But that’s only a quarter to a half of drivers who are suspended. The rest continue to drive – and to drink and drive.

Few have a record as bad as Cahill’s, but research by the AAA foundation shows that one out of five fatal crashes involves an unlicensed driver. The research employs data from FARS, NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. A quarter of those drivers had been suspended three or more times, and about five percent had been suspended 10 or more times.

Ignition Interlocks – A Better Alternative to License Revocation

Since certain offenders are likely to keep repeating their drunk driving, coming ever close to scenes like the mayhem in Sumpter Township, there is a place for imprisonment. Some drunk drivers are just too dangerous to be out on the roads.

But for most offenders, ignition interlocks are the best option. By preventing a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, the devices keep drunk drivers off the roads while allowing those who want help to keep their job, obtain counseling and treatment, and get their lives back together.

Michigan’s sobriety courts have been proven effective in preventing drunk driving recidivism, by combining ignition interlocks and treatment with strict supervision. The courts have a success rate in excess of 90 percent. Sobriety court personnel ensure that the offender complies with the order to install an ignition interlock, and then supervise the offenders’ treatment.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have worked in this case. But the important lesson is that license revocation should never be considered a safe option to keep a drunk driver in line.