Why Are There So Many Repeat DUI Offenders?

What’s going on here? A man in Colorado Springs has been arrested on suspicion of his ninth DUI. Now that Colorado has made a 4th DUI a felony, the man faces serious charges, including a prison term of up to 6 years and a fine that could reach a half million dollars.

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Repeat DUI Offenders – A Persistent Problem

A Nevada woman was arrested for DUI – twice in ten hours.

The same thing happened in Connecticut. A couple of weeks ago a Stamford man was driving his BMW without lights. An attempt to apprehend him ended in a crash and a DUI charge. When he got out of the hospital, he got hold of another car and racked up a second drunk driving charge the same day.

Ten hours seems to be the magic number. A New Jersey man was arrested for DWI twice in ten hours.

In Vermont, a New York man is facing his 7th drunk driving charge after being found asleep behind the wheel.

A Medway, Massachusetts woman will appear in court for her 6th drunk driving charge after crashing into a stone wall while driving under the influence.

What all of these cases have in common is that they are particularly outrageous examples of DUI re-offenders. In order for people convicted of drunk driving to get back behind the wheel while impaired, two things must happen:

  • They must decide to do so, and
  • They must be permitted to do so

The first happens all too often. Repeat DUI offenders have been studied again and again, and the results show that persistent recidivism is a sign of problems beyond a simple decision to drink and drive.  Repeat offenders have a higher likelihood of psychiatric issues such as PTSD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or depression. In addition, almost all repeat DUI offenders qualify as either alcohol abusers or alcohol dependent.

Many people convicted of DUI do not reoffend, of course. Their crime might have been the result of a single slip, or a combination of overconfidence, immaturity and peer pressure.  After their first arrest they refuse to make the decision to drink and drive. Half the US states now mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. First offenders who go through an ignition interlock program are better-placed to deal with drinking habits before they become a danger.

For repeat offenders, the methods states use are varied in scope and success. Often at some point a DUI becomes a felony, usually by the third or fourth time. This means stiff fines, imprisonment, and a criminal record. But such penalties don’t always work, especially when the behavior is influenced by personal and psychiatric issues.

What does work? The one measure that deals with the second factor – permission – is the ignition interlock. While it can’t prevent a person from drinking, it shuts down a vehicle if the driver tests positive for breath alcohol.

Even better is the combination of sobriety court and ignition interlock. A sobriety court, a program which combines supervision and alcohol counseling, has been shown to be effective in reducing recidivism. When combined with an ignition interlock, sobriety courts have been shown to be an extremely effective tool.

Repeat drunk driving offenders are a hard nut to crack. Until states do more to put into effect programs like Michigan’s sobriety court/interlock combination, we need to rely on the ignition interlock by itself. For that device is the only one that prevents a drunk driver from taking to the road.