Should Drunk Driving Laws Be Named After People?
If you follow road safety legislation – and particularly drunk driving legislation – you have heard the names. Emma’s Law in South Carolina. Noah’s Law in Maryland. Annie’s Law in Ohio. Leandra’s Law and Vince’s Law in New York. Tyler’s Law in Tennessee. David’s Law in Missouri.
The names are all victims – typically young, some children, though not all: Annie Rooney, of Annie’s Law, was a 36-year-old lawyer.
These named laws come about when the family of a victim speaks out and gathers support for a law that would help prevent the drunk driving that caused the death in question. There’s no doubt that the faces and stories that accompany these drunk driving laws helped to get them passed.
Now South Carolina, home of Emma’s Law, has halted the practice of naming laws after people. The aim, it’s said, is to take the emotion out of the process of lawmaking. The view is that legislation should address crime, negligence and other wrongdoing in a logical manner. If one is defending the law, one should do it without feeling they are defending a particular victim. And opponents should not feel stigmatized for fighting legislation – it does not mean they have less regard for the victims.
Proponents of the practice like it because it works. When you have a good story, you know it and can use the narrative to make the effect of the law more vivid. The question is whether that is popularization or manipulation.
In general, the practice of naming laws after people is winding down, partly because states have already addressed many of the issues that affect young people.
One area that has not been fully addressed is drunk driving. A number of the above-named laws, including Emma’s Law and Annie’s Law, are about mandating ignition interlocks for first-time drunk driving offenders. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
Currently 29 states have all-offender ignition interlock laws, which leave 21 that are not doing everything they can to keep repeat DUI offenders off the roads. In those states repeat offenders are claiming new victims, victims who might have been spared had the interlock device been present.
It’s vital that those states get on board with the national trend and strengthen their drunk driving laws. And we hope they do it soon. It’s sad that we have to wait for a young victim’s name and face to persuade voters to do the right thing and improve safety on the nation’s roads and streets.