Monday, February 09, 2009

New state DUI law's success rate remains a source of debate

Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now! By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff Contact writer It's hailed as Illinois' toughest crackdown on drunken drivers since the state lowered the legal blood-alcohol limit to .08 percent more than a decade ago. As many as 41,500 first-time DUI offenders this year may have to install an alcohol ignition interlock to get back out on the road legally. Illinois is one of eight states where first-time offenders are mandated or highly induced into installing the instrument. Proponents say the device is up to 90 percent successful in curbing a drunken driver while its installed, but even they admit recidivism rates climb again afterward. Its success rate - and the device itself - remains a source of debate. Busted About the size of a cellular phone, the Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device measures a motorist's blood-alcohol content when they blow into it. It allows first-time offenders to drive legally during their suspension period. In Illinois, the length of the suspension also was doubled with the new law, to six months if the motorist cooperated with police but failed breath/chemical testing, or 12 months for a refusal. Motorists still can't drive during the first 30 days of their suspensions. They have the option to apply for the program once they go to court. It replaces the conditional driving permit a judge used to give to eligible offenders so they could legally drive to specific places, such as work, school or the doctor, during the suspension. There are no such restrictions with the new program. "This way, at least they get to drive," said Susan McKeigue, the Illinois executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which spearheaded the law. "They just don't get to drive drunk." "It's using technology to stop this violent crime," she added. "You get hit by a drunk, it's assault with a deadly weapon." The offender must blow into the instrument to start the car and then again within the first 15 minutes and twice an hour thereafter. The device won't stop the car in mid-drive, but it will honk the horn and flash the lights to alert police. The car will not start if the instrument records a blood-alcohol level of .025 or higher. The motorist will be prompted to wait 10 minutes and try again. The ignition will be locked for 24 hours if there's three such readings in a 30-minute period. The interlock records the results in its internal memory. Every 60 days, the drivers must take their cars to the vendor, which sends the results to the Illinois Secretary of State for review and possible enforcement. The punishment for violations begins with a 90-day extension of the suspension period to license revocation or the car being impounded for 30 days or seized. If drivers are convicted of deliberately trying to skirt the law, such as driving a different car, they face a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. The cost isn't cheap. The offender pays about $85 to install the device, another $80 a month to rent, and another $30 a month in fees that the Illinois Secretary of State charges to administer the program. That's on top of first-time DUI court fines and fees of up to $2,500 and the cost of a good DUI attorney - about $5,000. They also must contribute to a state fund for poor offenders, determined by a judge as unable to afford the program. First-time offenders are eligible for the program if they are at least 18 with a valid license and were not involved in an alcohol-related crash that caused serious injury or death. Those who drive a bus, cab, or truck or otherwise hold commercial licenses are only eligible if the offense occurred off duty in their personal car. The law defines a first-time offender as someone with a valid license who has not had a DUI conviction in the last five years. And therein lies one of many issues critics point to as a problem. Too much, too little? MADD wants all 50 states to pass such laws, arguing it will save more lives, but critics contend it will lead to measures that restrict alcohol policies too much with few lifesaving results. Attorney Donald Ramsell, whose Wheaton law firm specializes in DUI defense, said the new law punishes people before conviction and hurts other family members who are forced to blow into the device to use the same car. He questions what effect it'll have to reduce DUI deaths. By his research, less than 1 percent of first-time offenders arrested in Illinois each year are rearrested within the next 12 months, which is the longest period the device is on the car. So, he argues, after calculating the monthly fees, about $27 million a year is going to a half-dozen private companies authorized to install the instruments to try to stop a small number of people for a short amount of time. And scofflaws who are willing to risk a prison term can try to skirt the law simply by driving a different car or having a sober person blow for them. "It's a baldfaced lie that it's going to be a big accident or death preventer," Ramsell said. "All this money is being dumped into this when there's absolutely no proof it is effective in any way, shape or form. It's pork barrel politics meets DUI." Another staunch critic of interlock laws for first-time offenders is the Washington, D.C.-based American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association. The group said it supports "sensible alcohol policies" for repeat offenders and those arrested with high blood-alcohol levels since national transportation data shows those groups are primarily involved in DUI fatalities. ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell said the laws MADD advocates don't allow judges to distinguish between the social drinker who is within a few sips of .08 and those who are way over the limit. She warned such laws could lead to more draconian measures. "To divert our attention and focus on social drinkers is to take our eye off the ball," Longwell said. "The people who cause fatalities are people who have high BACs and are repeat offenders. If we want to solve the problem, then we have to go after these chronic drunk drivers." And that's exactly what proponents say the new law accomplishes. They point to studies showing one-third of all drunken drivers have a prior DUI conviction. "What we're trying to do is prevent the first-time offender from becoming the chronic offender," said Susan McKinney, administrator of the Illinois Secretary of State's BAIID division. "We know this is not going to end drunken driving, but it's going to help." The success rate in New Mexico, which in June 2005 became the first state to enact a first-offender interlock law, is highly debated. Statistics show a 19 percent drop in DUI fatalities there from 2004 to 2007, but critics say the death rate already was dropping. If viewed during a 10-year span, the decrease is closer to 6 percent, they argue. The American Civil Liberties Union has not weighed in on the ignition interlock laws, but high courts in states where they are in use have upheld them as constitutional. The next frontier So far, one in every 10 DUI offenders nationwide has an interlock device, but that number is expected to climb. Last year, 71 alcohol-ignition interlock bills were considered in 27 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It looks like there is a trend," said Anne Teigen, a NCSL policy specialist. "More states are looking at ignition interlocks as a way to reduce impaired driving." Those on the front lines say there will come a day not so far in the future when even this device will be obsolete. They envision every car as its original equipment having a largely invisible device that keeps the vehicle from running if the driver had too much to drink. A five-year research program, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, is developing the advanced technology so that it is as nonintrusive and affordable as today's air bags. It includes sensors in the wheel or shift lever that measures alcohol in perspiration, so called "sniffers" that check cabin air and a camera that monitors eye movements. The research program, which launched a Web site,, short for Driver Alcohol Detective System for Safety, estimates in-vehicle testing of prototypes by 2013. "I personally think we will get drunken driving eliminated in this lifetime," McKeigue said. "Now that's something to be proud of."

1 comment:

Steve said...

A great site to find a good lawyer is

They list lawyers all over the US and you can also read/write reviews on them.