Kansas Stiffens Penalties for Drunk Driving Manslaughter

kansas-drunk-driving-manslaughterKansas Governor Jeff Colyer recently put his signature on a law that was passed unanimously by both legislative houses: Caitlin’s Law. Named after Caitlin Vogel, who was killed by a drunk driver, the bill extends the prison sentences for drunk driving manslaughter, specifically aggravated manslaughter and battery cases when the offender is a repeat drunk driver, or someone driving on a suspended or revoked license.

The minimum sentence for aggravated battery under the new law rises from 38 months to 47 months. For manslaughter the sentence goes from 62 to 89 months.

Do Harsh Sentences Prevent Repeat DUIs?

The motive behind the legislation is noble: preventing tragedies like the one that befell Caitlin Vogel by increasing punishment. The question, though, is whether these longer sentences succeed in that aim.

Certainly any offender who is in prison is not out on the roads, so there is a certain measure of protection due to the incarceration itself – in other words, incapacitation. But the real value of the stiff prison sentence appears to be in deterring others from making the same bad decision. Seeing a DUI killer put away for five to seven years sends  strong message to others.

From Deterrence to Prevention: Ignition Interlocks

While this law might have deterrence value, it won’t be enough to change the drunk driving landscape in Kansas by a large measure. What might do that is compliance-based removal of ignition interlocks. Currently these devices, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are required for all DUI offenses in Kansas. That is an excellent law, and one that has already saved lives in the state.

The devices, however, are removed after the prescribed term, no matter how well or badly an offender does during that time. Compliance-based removal means that the interlock would only be removed if the offender had passed a set number of months without any failed breath tests. This would keep off the roads a large number of problem drinkers – exactly the type who end up in serious DUI crashes.

It’s good that Topeka is paying attention to the problem of drunk driving, and taking steps to keep dangerous drunk drivers off the state’s roads. If legislators take a wider view, as other states have, they’ll find their efforts are rewarded with much lower crash numbers.