Mississippi Lawmakers Make Promise to Get State’s DUI Act Together

Mississippi has a couple of serious problems in the fight against drunk driving. Last week legislators made a promise that they would deal with both of them.

Problem 1: Poor information sharing

The law and the courts make a large distinction between a first and a repeat DUI offender, and they are correct. Judges need to know whether they are dealing with a person who made one foolish choice, or one who shows a persistent disregard for drunk driving laws. About a third of those arrested for DUI are repeat offenders. Such offenders are also disproportionately involved in alcohol-related crashes.

mississippi drunk driving laws to be improvedMississippi’s problem is that they don’t always know who is a repeat offender. Up to now, they have done a poor job of sharing information across counties. So a driver picked up for DUI might get off lightly because no one can dig up his or her prior offenses in another part of the state.

The means to share DUI arrest information, not just with the rest of the state but with the country, already exists. Officers need to be trained in using the database technology, and as of last week, legislators have promised to ensure that every county and court has access to all the DUI information from other jurisdictions.

Problem 2: Plea bargaining

In quite a few states drunk driving is prosecuted as such, with no means of escaping the charge. Not so in Mississippi, where all too often the charge is reduced to reckless driving. This means that if the offender gets another DUI it will not count as a second offense.

Solution 1: Ignition interlocks

Another item on the agenda is whether or not to get tougher on first-time DUI offenders. One measure being considered is the requirement to have an ignition interlock for six months. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Right now half the states in the country do require ignition interlocks for all drunk drivers, as a way to prevent recidivism.  Let’s hope that legislators in Mississippi keep their promise to address the two problems now in discussion. If they do that, and also pass a stronger ignition interlock law, they’ll see the results of their actions on roads and streets across the state.