Raise The Stakes For Repeat DUI Offenders
Like most states, Pennsylvania has toughened its drunk-driving laws over the years. And, like most states, it has taken a broad view, reducing the impermissible blood alcohol level for a driver from .10 to 0.08 while engaging in broad-based enforcement such as DUI roadblocks. Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence shows that the next wave of law and its enforcement should take a narrower focus on the nucleus of the problem: repeat offenders. According to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, there were 327 DUI-related fatalities Pennsylvania in 2016, 27.5 percent of all fatal vehicle crashes that year. In those fatal crashes, 71.6 percent of impaired drivers had blood alcohol contents of .15 or higher, and nearly 40 percent of the impaired drivers are repeat offenders. About 10,000 people are convicted of their second or more DUI offense every year. A bill that focuses on repeat offenders awaits the state House’s return next week from a long summer recess. Sponsored by Republican state Sen. John Rafferty, it easily passed the Senate in April, 45-4, but has not moved in the House. The bill would create a felony for a person’s third DUI conviction in a 10-year period, if the suspect’s blood-alcohol content is .16 or higher. The felony charge would apply in a fourth case regardless of the suspect’s BAC. Under current law, the minimum sentence for homicide by vehicle while under the influence is three years. The bill would increase it to five years for someone with a prior conviction and to seven years for someone with two or more prior DUI convictions. And, since about 50 percent of people with license suspensions due to DUI continue to drive, the bill would increase penalties for that based on the number of convictions. The House has scheduled only a few voting days before the legislative session ends in October. If it fails to take up the bill, the legislation will have to be reintroduced in the Senate when the next Legislature convenes in January. House leaders quickly should move the bill for debate and a vote to raise the stakes for repeat offenders and better focus DUI enforcement at the heart of the problem.