In 2012, Pennsylvania accidents involving drivers with blood-alcohol contents greater than .01 percent caused 8,724 injuries, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Accidents involving legally intoxicated drivers caused 408 deaths, representing 31 percent of all accidents resulting in death. Such accidents have directly affected many people in Lancaster.
Despite the obvious danger these drivers put other motorists in, for the last few years, many repeat DUI offenders have escaped appropriate punishment. Fortunately, a new bill corrects this oversight, a change that should help reduce state DUI accidents.
Recognizing repeat offenders
In 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that drivers could not be treated legally as DUI offenders until they were convicted of a prior DUI, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. If a driver was arrested for DUI and then arrested again before being convicted of the original charge, both charges would count as first offenses.
One egregious case illustrates the shortcomings of this policy. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the following facts on the case:
- In less than one year, a Villanova man was arrested for driving intoxicated five times. During each arrest, the man’s blood-alcohol content was far above the legal limit.
- Based on the recorded BAC levels, after the first charge, the man should have faced 90 days of jail time for the second charge and a year of jail time for each subsequent charge. However, under the Supreme Court precedent, each conviction had to be treated as a "first offense."
- The man only was sentenced to 10 days in jail for each charge, or 50 days total.
The new legislation lets judges take multiple DUI arrests into account, even if sentencing has not yet taken place. The bill also addresses another loophole, which allowed repeat offenders to refuse to take a sobriety test and receive a weaker penalty than they would have received for consenting to the test and failing it.
The Senate unanimously passed the legislation in October, and Gov. Tom Corbett’s office reported that he would sign it, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Once effective, the legislation should help protect motorists against drunk driver accidents involving repeat offenders.
Proven dangerous drivers
Findings from the National Department of Transportation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are shared on MADD’s website, point to the danger repeat offenders pose. Even first-time offenders are often repeat offenders, having driven intoxicated an average of 80 times before the first arrest. The behavior may be even more ingrained for repeat offenders. Nearly one-third of drivers arrested for or convicted of DUI are repeat offenders.
Unfortunately, even with the state’s new legislation, accidents involving repeat DUI offenders may still affect many people. Anyone who has been hurt in an accident that a drunk driver caused should meet with an attorney to discuss the available legal remedies.