Time for DUI Crackdown

Time for DUI Crackdown

When the 2007 Legislature convenes in Olympia next January, lawmakers
will be focused on the task of adopting a two-year balanced budget.
Lawmakers will be remiss if they don’t strengthen drunk driving laws.

Two high-profile cases, both of them in Seattle, should provide
proponents of change with the ammunition they will need to crack down on
drunk drivers.

Susan West and Mary Jane Rivas should be the poster women for new DUI
laws.

West, 48, who was sentenced to prison for six years after she killed a
pedestrian in a drunk driving accident, was barely out of jail when she
was arrested on another drunk driving charge. She was sentenced to a year
in the county jail for her fifth DUI offense.

Rivas, 31, had cocaine in her blood and an outstanding warrant for
DUI, when she allegedly ran a red light at 80 miles per hour before
slamming her vehicle into a patrol car operated by a Seattle police
officer. The rookie officer, Joselito “Lito” Alvarez Barber, was just 26
when he died.

Following the high-profile cases, the Seattle Times analyzed court
records and found that since 2000 nearly 5,000 drivers have had three or
more drunk driving charges filed against them, and 159 drivers have had
at least five DUIs.

It’s time for the Legislature to crack down on those repeat drunk
drivers.

The 2006 Legislature took a step in the right direction when lawmakers
passed a bill that makes a fifth driving under the influence conviction
in 10 years a felony. Next year, lawmakers should give serious
consideration to lowering the threshold to three DUI convictions in 10 or
fewer years.

Legislators must understand that a majority of the people arrested for
DUIs are never convicted of that crime. Charges are routinely
plea-bargained to a lesser crime.

According to the Times’ study, of the 220,640 people accused of DUI
offenses in Washington state since 2000, only 43 percent ended up with
DUI convictions – fewer than half. The Times said “27 percent were
convicted of reduced charges such as reckless driving.” The report said
12 percent of those arrested on suspicion of DUI had their prosecution
deferred with 17 percent resulting in dismissal.

Lawmakers have done a decent job of strengthening DUI laws over the
last decade – lowering the blood-alcohol threshold from 0.10 to 0.08,
requiring jail time and ignition interlock devices and automatic license
revocations. Those convicted on a first offense say it’s not uncommon to
spend $5,000 to cover all the costs associated with a DUI arrest. Then
there’s the personal shame of using the interlock devise that prevents a
driver with alcohol on his/her breath from starting the vehicle.
First-time offenders should quickly understand that drinking and driving
is a costly and dehumanizing proposition.

But some people never get the message. They drive on a suspended
license, ignore court-ordered sanctions and basically thumb their nose at
the law.

Those repeat offenders deserve harsher treatment.

The ugly truth is a person dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident
somewhere in this country on average of every 31 minutes. This carnage on
our highways must stop. Getting repeat offenders behind bars for
prolonged periods is just one of the solutions.

It’s time for legislators to up the ante.

Source: http://www.theolympian.com

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