It’s unbelievable. In light of all of the public campaigns against drunken driving, people are still arrested each and every week for driving while intoxicated. Factor in an accident, and you raise the possibility of death and serious injury to innocent victims of drunken drivers. Recent arrests of celebrities for drunken driving highlight the dangers posed by those who get behind the wheel after a few drinks.
Ending the danger of drunken driving motivated the state senate this year to crack down on drunken drivers by increasing the penalties for DWI offenders with extremely high blood alcohol content (BAC), ensuring that repeat DWI offenders are kept off the road, and increasing the penalties for drunken drivers who kill others.
The DWI legislation, S.8232, would:
• Toughen penalties for high BAC offenders – Creates the crime of aggravated DWI for drunken drivers with a blood alcohol content of .18 or higher who operate motor vehicles, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of $1,000-$2,500; increases penalties for offenders convicted of aggravated DWI; requires aggravated DWI offenders to have an ignition interlock system installed on their vehicle while on probation.
• Keep repeat drunken drivers off from our roads – Extends the driver license revocation period for repeat DWI offenders and drivers who refuse chemical tests; permanently revokes the licenses of anyone who has a combination of 3 or more DWI convictions or chemical test refusals within a four year period. Offenders with a combination of 4 or more DWI convictions or chemical test refusals within an 8 year period would also have their licenses permanently revoked; individuals who are caught driving with a permanently revoked drivers license would face felony charges.
• Increase penalties for drunken drivers who kill – Adds four new factors which would increase the penalties for vehicular manslaughter: the crash caused the death of two or more persons other than the defendant; the defendant has 2 or more DWI convictions within the last 5 years, or 3 or more convictions within the last 10 years; the defendant has previously been convicted of a homicide offense caused by driving; or the defendant is guilty of aggravated DWI.
• Help treat addiction – Drivers submitting plea bargains from DWI to DWAI would be required to complete alcoholism and drug rehabilitation programs; requires “screening” for all first time offenders with a BAC of less than .15; requires an alcohol dependency assessment for repeat offenders, offenders with a BAC of .15 or higher, or for those who need it as indicated by screening.
The bill will soon be on the governor’s desk for his action.
The senate also passed the “Bill Leaf-Brandi Woods” law which would increase penalties for certain vehicular crimes committed by persons who have previously been convicted on one or more occasions of drunken or drugged driving. The legislation is named for 25 year old Bill Leaf, a prominent Syracuse area reporter and sports anchor who was killed by a drunken driver traveling the wrong way on Interstate 81, and Brandi Woods, a 15 year old girl from Memphis, New York who was delivering girl scout cookies when she was struck and killed by a drunken driver. Both drivers had a history of drunken driving offenses.
Last, the senate approved a bill that would protect child passengers in the car of a drunken driver. The additional penalties for someone driving drunk with a child in the care include additional fines with additional prison time. Drunken driving with a child in the car is reckless and by most standards constitutes neglect or even abuse (S.2272).
The message should be clear by now – don’t drink and drive. One for the road gets you a trooper for a chaser.
Senator Seward’s office web site is www.senatorjimseward.com.