Friday, October 9, 2009

Criminalizing drunk driving

Apparently there's a new proposal by a handful of state legislators, one that claims "bipartisan support," that would make a first drunk driving conviction a crime instead of just a traffic violation, as it now (ridiculously) is.

About friggen time.

I would, of course like to hear more specifics about the proposal before throwing my full support behind it. What would the actual penalties be? And more importantly, there's a second part of the proposal that would allow for "roadside checkpoints" to screen for drunk drivers. I'm all for more policing to actually catch people in the act, but the idea of checkpoints is always fraught with danger, especially if it involves so-called random stops. Because it's really difficult to enforce the whole "random" part of the deal.

Other than that, though, I'm hopeful that this will be a step in the right direction toward seriously dealing with Wisconsin's abysmal drunk driving enforcement policies. I certainly believe that prevention and treatment programs should be a major part of any effort to curb the practice, but we also need to make sure that offenders are getting more than just a slap on the wrist. I'm sick and tired of reading about people being pulled over for their fifth, sixth, seventh (and so on) DUIs. It's just plain ridiculous. Maybe turning the first strike into an actual crime will lead to people either wising up or being taken off the road all together before it ends in tragedy.


Anonymous said...

i've seen this from the inside, as one of my good friends and my own father have been pulled over for DUI. they could have killed someone, and luckily, through the help of their friends and family, they are now smarter about when and where they drink. i am happy to be their DD (I don't drink). Unfortunately many others don't have a support net to help them make those life changes and continue to get behind the wheel. making the first offense a criminal act is an important step, but i really think there needs to be more done in terms of education of these offenders so that they can make the right choice the next time. oh, and i also believe that a 3 strikes law might be a good option here. i mean three strikes like 1st is a criminal offense, short jail time if neccesary, but you can eventually get your license back. 2nd strike nets you serious jail time, but eventually you can work your way back to the wheel, and 3rd strike, you're done driving.I'm no policy maker, but that seems fair to me.

Michael Donnelly said...

It's all in the details.

Drunk driving is terrible, and the fact that it's as socially acceptable as it is in Wisconsin is unacceptable. Increasing the penalties would be a solid step toward convincing people that, yes really, it isn't okay.

As with any law, though, the details are important. What precisely are the ramifications for being caught drunk driving the first time? Second time? Third?

The one this bill is missing is how we'll pay for this. Criminalizing drunk driving will make for an additional burden on the criminal justice system. That will cost money. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, but as responsible legislators they ought to look for a way to fund it. The additional tax on hard liquor doesn't look like it'll be enough.

Anonymous said...

People continue to call for increased penalties as if they were some kind of magic bullet. A second conviction already is a crime, a 5th is a felony, yet there are weekly reports of drivers arrested for more offenses than this. These folks are sick - That is, addicted. You can take their license all you want and it won't do any good. (Do you really think 5-time repeater is driving on a valid license?) They can't be jailed forever, but some kind of electronic monitoring would make sense.

A bigger problem is how much people in the state drink. The average OWI offender has a BAC of 0.17. That's the equivalent of about 8 drinks for a man, 5 for a woman. Add to that all the alcohol that gets burned off from the time they started drinking until they get tested, and you see this is not something that happens by accident. The trick is to make drinking that much unacceptable, not just to the drinker but to their friends, too. That takes education more than punishment. So rather than closing the barn door after the horse has run off (increasing penalties) spend that new alcohol tax money on prevention.

Anonymous said...

that's a really good point, Anonymous. my family drinks a lot, i don't drink at all. they are constantly asking me why i don't down a few with them, and i point the the rampant alcoholism that runs in my family. they will probably never understand, but I do, and my children will as well.

Unknown said...

"These folks are sick - That is, addicted."

Im so f__king tired of hearing this. Yes, alcoholism is an addiction. Driving after drinking is not an addiction or a sickness.

I have no problem with stricter penalties but lets be realistic about the fact that it will likely have little effect at stopping the chronic drunk drivers.

The Lost Albatross