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Don’t drink and drive — it’s a message that has become a part of our collective consciousness, as it should. Around the holidays, however, the instances of accidents caused by drunk driving tend to increase. That probably correlates with the number of additional parties. Are the DUI laws we have in place too lenient?
It is ironic that heading out to a cheerful celebration with friends, families and coworkers could end in tragic results. Just how tragic? Consider these statistics compiled by Interlock:
- Nearly 10,000 people were killed each year in both 2013 and 2014 from drunk driving accidents.
- Every day, 28 people die because of a drunk driver.
- The costs of drunk driving set the U.S. back $199 billion each year.
- In 2011, 1.2 million drivers were arrested for DUI.
In a country that has a population well over 300 million, those numbers might seem relatively small — but try telling that to the families who have lost loved ones in these types of totally preventable accidents.
That prevention starts with educating the public about the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Unfortunately, that same alcohol that impairs your motor skills also impairs your thinking. Every drunk person thinks, “I got this” when it comes to driving. Or they think that they’ll know their limits and call a cab or Uber. Unfortunately, the rise of Uber has not lowered the number of DUIs. Could the other preventive measure be stricter laws for DUIs?
Current Laws Already on the Books
Each state sets its own laws for DUI convictions. However, there is some commonality. The majority of states set 0.08% as the legal limit for blood-alcohol content. Anyone who is found to be driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered too impaired to operate a motor vehicle.
Many of those first-time offenders are charged with a misdemeanor DUI and are sentenced to six months in jail — though that jail time is often suspended due in part to overcrowding. Instead, the convicted offender will be put on probation. They might have to take a driver’s education course and pay a fine. In other words, they pretty much get off lucky.
What Does This Mean?
A DUI felony usually involves greater levels of intoxication and harm to property or people. Here the courts tend to be stricter, but they also allow for “wiggle” room. That is especially true if no one was injured in the accident. They might order the convicted person to install a breathalyzer ignition that would prevent them from starting their car unless they “blow” a legal BAC. Of course, there is nothing stopping them from getting a sober person to start the car.
The only exception to these potentially lenient rules is with youth offenders. Courts tend to be a bit stricter in those cases. In Texas, for example, a minor convicted of a DUI is compelled to perform community service along with their other penalties. States can also suspend licenses, but that doesn’t really prevent people from driving. It just means if they are caught without a license, then they can face even stiffer crimes.
Could Harsher DUI Laws Help?
This circles back to the issue of whether these laws should be harsher. The short answer is, “Yes.” There shouldn’t be any “hedging” when it comes to DUI convictions. The numbers do show a downward trend with regard to the number of DUI fatalities, but loosening the laws or not applying the strictest penalties could be considered a form of enabling.
That is not the best approach to helping someone who has a drinking problem. Even the casual drinker could develop problems if they think they’ll constantly “float by.” Alcoholism already impacts millions of families. It would be a shame if that harm continues to extend to totally random and innocent victims.