Drunk driving is a serious offense. Often, a drunk driver can kill or seriously injure themselves or someone else. Even though drunk driving fatalities are down nearly four percent nearly 13,000 people were killed on American roadways in alcohol-related crashes in 2007 (NHTSA, 2008). Of all the alcohol related crashes in 2007, four age ranges comprised 81% of all fatalities—the ages from 21 to 64 (Ibid. ). in terms of recidivism, about 33% of all drivers arrested or convicted of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence are repeat offenders (MADD, 2009).
Mothers Against Drunk Driving also reports that only 17% of impaired drivers who are injured in crashes are ever charged and convicted. Eleven percent are charged and not convicted and an astonishing 72% are never charged. These statistics leads one to inquire if the current drunk driving penalties are strong enough. Drunk driving penalties vary from state to state. There is no consistent standard. What gets one a ticket in one state may get one arrested in another.
Drunk driving penalties need to be stricter across the board, and that includes jail time, even for first time offenders. We need to send a message that there will be zero tolerance for any driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. Too many people lose their lives or are seriously injured by drunk drivers to allow them to “get off easy”, or even not be punished at all. While we have addressed some statistics about the nature of drunk driving, we need to define exactly what drunk driving is. According to expertlaw.
com, drunk driving (also known as “driving while impaired”, “driving under the influence”, “or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor”), occurs when a person drives a motor vehicle after consuming enough alcoholic beverages to impair his ability to operate said motor vehicle. One can be charged with drink driving even if one’s driving is perfect. One can even be pulled over for a mechanical problem with one’s car, and be charged if one appears intoxicated (2009). Expertlaw.
com states that all drunk driving offenses carry potential jail sentences, but most first offenders are given lesser punishments. Some jurisdictions sentence all drunk drivers to jail, although the term may be short, say one weekend. Some of the first time offender punishments may include driver’s license restrictions, fines, mandatory attendance in drunk driver’s education classes, mandatory attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or alcohol counseling, community service, or probation. Sometimes, a driver may be required to install an ignition interlock, making him pass a breathalyzer before starting the car.
One can also have their car impounded, have a breathalyzer installed in one’s home and be forced to submit to random tests on that device when called by their probation officer. Jail time is almost mandatory on multiple offenses, and almost always given if one is convicted of killing some while drunk driving. While all these penalties are good, they are not good enough, what do you tell the parents of a seventeen year old girl who is forever paralyzed because she was struck by a drunk driver? Imagine finding out the driver that paralyzed her only received a slap on the wrist.
As a parent you would want vengeance. Finding out that your state would not punish this person because it was only their first offense would make you upset. It would spur you to action. You would want your state to do more. You would want that person to serve jail time. Because the penalties vary from state to state, organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and saferoads. org are constantly pushing for consistency in laws to make sure that all drivers are equally protected from drunk drivers. Saferoads.
org has pushed for the passage of “fifteen model traffic safety laws related to teen driving, drunk driving, seat belts, child booster seats, and motorcycle helmets. ” No state passed all fifteen recommended laws. This means, among other things, that tougher drunk driving standards did not get passed. There has even been a push to have the minimum legal limit lowered to . 07 in North Carolina. This would be the toughest standard in the nation, and makes North Carolina a leader in both creating tougher drunk driving laws and punishing drunk drivers. Take the case of Timothy Blackwell.
He was in a Durham, NC courtroom on trial for first-degree murder. He’s only the second person in the country to be so charged (Christian Science Monitor, 1998). While his trial is unusual, the case is not. North Carolina prides itself on having some of the toughest drunk driving penalties in the nation. While we do not know the outcome of Mr. Blackwell’s trial, it hopefully sends the message that drunk driving is not tolerated in North Carolina. Another state that is extremely tough on drunk drivers is Virginia. There, it is mandatory to serve jail time when one’s blood alcohol content is .
15 or higher (drunkdrivinglawyers. com, 2008). This is twice the legal limit. Representative Vito Fossella learned this the hard way when he was pulled over with a blood alcohol content of . 17. The judge showed no sympathy, imposing a sentence of five days for the drunk driving conviction (Ibid. ) . More states need to take the same tough stand. Drinking and driving are a dangerous combination. By doing so, lives are endangered. Tougher standards are proven to work. States with lower standards have higher death tolls. They also have higher acts of recidivism.
Without tough penalties, there is no motivation for people to get help. With mandatory jail time, even for first time offenders, we are protecting the nation’s roadways. Just as seat belts and seat belt enforcement laws save lives, so do tougher drunk driving standards. Many people who are killed or kill in drunk driving accidents are first time offenders. According to NHTSA, about 92% of all fatal crashes are cause by people that have no prior conviction (2008). That does not mean that they have never been charged, just that they have never been convicted.
By sending the message that even first time offenders will be jailed, there would have been about 11,200 people still alive today, according to NHTSA (2008). These statistics are for drivers who had a blood alcohol content of . 08 or more. Again, according to NHTSA, the average blood alcohol content is . 16. That is twice the legal limit. This means that there are some consistent drunk drivers on the roads, lying in wait to kill or injure someone. Tougher punishments would also send a message to teenagers that there will be a serious punishment for those that choose to drive under the influence.
By having the mandatory jail time, people will begin to see that drinking and driving is not a game. Making people attend mandatory counseling or go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings will not necessarily change the underlying attitude about drinking and driving. The inside of a jail cell will. By exposing people to mandatory jail time, people are less likely to reoffend and more likely to take other forms of treatment seriously. Slapping people on the wrist does not work. Time after time, we see the same people back in the courtrooms as repeat offenders.
Each time, the judge goes light on the offender, and the offender goes out and reoffends. It is only when someone is killed do we sit up and take notice. If we sat up and took notice before the death, we are in a better position to prevent the death. Jail time does that. In the time that offender is off the streets, he or she is getting sobered up and hopefully taking advantage of programs being offered. They have a chance to see the damage they could have potentially caused, and be off the streets to not harm anyone else. Additionally, according to 1800duilaws.
com, a driver that has one or more driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated has a 1. 4 times higher risk of becoming involved in a fatal crash than a person with no such conviction. For those that say that jail time is too harsh or too expensive a prospect, this writer has to say this—how do you respond to the parents of our seventeen year old girl previously mentioned? If that person had been jailed and maybe been in a place where they were forced to sober up and get help for their problem, would it not have been worth it?
We as a society need to begin thinking in terms of a collective of protection, rather than the idea that we are over-punishing. Mandatory jail time for first time drunk driving offenders would do much to eliminate many deaths on American roadways. Not only would it save time and money, but lives. Families would ultimately be improved because of the person being in a place where they are getting help for their disease, and the streets are safer. The person is in a place where they are forced to think about the consequences of their poor decision, and they are forced to see what may happen if they continue on the path they have chosen.
All states need to pass mandatory jail time for first time drunk driving offenders so the roads are safer and people are able to learn to make better choices. Works Citied 1800DUILAWS, “Legal Stats. ” 1800 DUILAWS. 2009. 222Mar 2009 <http://1800duilaws. com/common/legalstats. asp>. expertlaw. com, “Drunk Driving Offenses and Penalties. ” expertlaw. cm. 2007. expertlaw. com. 22 Mar 2009 <http://www. expertlaw. com/library/drunk_driving? Drunk_Driving_Charge. html>. Johnson, Teddi Dineley. “States making little progress on passage of traffic safety laws. ” Nation’s Health March 2009: 8-8. MADD. org, “Statistics. ” MADD.
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