Tuesday, April 17, 2007

West Virginia DUI Laws

Charleston Daily Mail recently printed this article on West Virginia DUI Laws: W.Va.'s DUI laws need to be tough Print Story Email Story WEST Virginia's prisons and jails are filled beyond their designed capacities. The 10 regional jails have 1,200 more people than they were designed to hold. The main reason is that those jails house 1,300 people who are waiting to be transferred to prisons. To ease the burden, state Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, proposed revising the penalties for driving under the influence. Instead of sending people who are convicted of third-offense DUI to prison, Foster proposed the state send them to jail instead, requiring community service and alcohol counseling. But at what price? The question goes beyond dollars and sense, and is measured also in lives. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the statistics to bear this out. Back in the bad old days of 1983, drunken drivers killed 253 people on the roads of West Virginia. Alcohol-related deaths accounted for 60 percent of those killed in traffic fatalities in the state that year. Tougher DUI laws cut those deaths in half. That same federal agency reported that in 2005, drunken drivers killed 126 people in West Virginia. Only 34 percent of the traffic deaths in the state that year were alcohol-related. Under Foster's proposal, more than 200 drunken drivers would be transferred from prison to jail. The bill did not progress, so it's back to the drawing board. Many good people are trying to find answers to overcrowded prisons, overcrowded jails, the cost of public defenders, rising county jail bills, and more. These are real problems. But simply defining deviance down is not the solution. Donna Hawkins, executive director of the state's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, opposed the bill Foster introduced. "We realize that there is the overcrowding, but DUI is a violent crime and needs to be recognized as such," Hawkins said. The state should not change criminal penalties at the risk of raising the death toll from drunk drivers. A policy of tolerating deviance produces real victims. A state that went from 253 alcohol-related traffic deaths in one year to 126 alcohol-related traffic deaths some 22 years later obviously is doing something right.

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