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November 18, 2009

New York about to get tougher on drunk drivers

As regular readers know, one modern "get tough" sentencing movement that I am happy and eager to support concerns efforts to enhance and refine responses to the pervasive and harmful crime of drunk driving.  Thus, I was pleased to see this report in today's New York Times, which is headlined "New York Is Set for Strict Stand on D.W.I. Cases."   Here are the basics:

New York State would make it a felony to drive while intoxicated with a child in the vehicle and would require first-time convicted drunken drivers to buy a device that prevents them from driving their cars if they have been drinking, under a bill passed by the State Assembly on Tuesday.

The measure, which would significantly toughen penalties for drunken driving, could be passed by the Senate and sent to the governor this week.  It would make New York the second state, after Arizona, in which drivers under the influence of alcohol could be charged with a felony if they have children as passengers.

New York would also be one of only a dozen states that force drivers convicted for the first time of drunken driving to install what is called an interlock device, which measures the alcohol content of a driver’s breath and prevents the engine from starting if it detects too high a level.

The article also spotlights that, while there has long been evidence of the severe harms that regularly result from drug driving, it took a few high-profile cases to prompt what seems like overdue legislative action:

The push for harsher drunken-driving penalties follows two recent crashes in New York in which children were killed while traveling with adults who had been drinking....

Courts in New York convicted 37,695 people for drunken driving last year, and across the country people who drink and drive kill about 13,000 people a year....

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit group financed by auto insurers, found that repeat drunken driving offenses dropped 65 percent among those with interlock devices.  Another study, by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, estimated that if the devices were more widely installed, they would save up to 750 lives a year....

Automakers and the federal government are now examining ways to make technology like ignition interlocks more widely available.  A panel made up of car manufacturers and government officials has begun looking into ways that all vehicles might include systems that prevent impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel.  For example, they have studied sensors that could be installed in steering wheels that detect alcohol through the skin and devices that automatically measure alcohol in the ambient air of a vehicle’s interior.

“Interlocks are very effective in preventing recidivism, but the problem is they’re used in a tiny proportion of cases,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.   Figures collected by institute showed that in 2007, the most recent year data was available, 146,000 ignition interlocks were in use in the United States, even though 1.4 million people were convicted of drunken driving.

Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California signed into law a pilot program making interlock devices mandatory for first-time drunken drivers in four counties, including Los Angeles and Sacramento.   Interlocks are in use in some form in 47 states, but most require them only for those who were found driving with an extremely high blood alcohol content or leave it to judges to decide whether they are used.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers:

November 18, 2009 at 08:37 AM | Permalink


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very and and yes it's about time. But where's the registry of all of them. Where are the residence restrictions....i don't want them within 2 miles of a bar or anywhere alcohol congragates!

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Nov 19, 2009 2:24:44 AM

great stuff

Posted by: magnaflow 15609 | Nov 20, 2009 12:43:13 PM

I think it is a very good thing to become tougher on drunk drivers. Being a parent myself, I can not comprehend parents actually driving intoxicated with their children in the car. I am happy to hear some states are making it a felony now to drive with children while intoxicated.People just dont seem to think now a days.

Posted by: Laura | Nov 29, 2009 4:08:27 PM

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