February 14, 2008
Tougher DUI laws needed to save lives in
Beavers pushes stricter DUI
Although some progress has been made in Tennessee to curb drunk driving, there is still much to be done. In 2006 total highway fatalities increased to 1,287. Of that number, 509 were alcohol-related, an increase of 7.6%. That’s almost ten people dying in crashes involving alcohol on Tennessee streets and roads every week! This is unacceptable! Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 3 and 33, with 50 percent of those being alcohol related. This is a startling statistic and something the legislature has a chance to do something about this year.
As we have seen, the emotional toll on families is staggering, but impaired driving also has a financial impact. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the lifetime cost to society for each fatality is over $977,000 with alcohol-related crashes costing society billions of dollars.
Tennessee has only adopted 5 of the 11 elements proposed by NHTSA. It is time for the General Assembly to pass many of the other elements recommended by NHTSA that are needed to save lives in the State of Tennessee. One such bill that has been filed would lower aggravated drunk driving from .20 to .15 blood alcohol content. This would target the hard core drinking drivers, who are involved in 54 percent of alcohol-related fatalities. NHTSA estimates that on average, an individual makes about 1,000 drunk driving trips before being arrested.
Approximately 500 DUI offenders have their violations reduced each year to lesser charges such as reckless driving. These same offenders are sometimes arrested numerous times before they are finally convicted of first offense DUI. That is because District Attorneys are agreeing to plea agreements; therefore, offenders are back out on our highways to maim and kill innocent victims. This year, the legislature will consider a bill which would prohibit a District Attorney General from offering, accepting, or entering into plea agreements with individuals charged with DUI, which essentially allows the DUI offender to receive a lesser punishment than the offense warrants.
Another measure which will be considered is the Administrative License Revocation (ALR). ALR has been proven to reduce recidivism in convicted drunk drivers. About one-third of drivers arrested for DUI each year are repeat DUI offenders. Administrative license revocation at the time of the arrest has been demonstrated to be effective in reducing DUI offenses among convicted drinking drivers. It is estimated that ALR laws decrease alcohol-related fatal crashes by an average of 9%. However, 50 to 75 percent of drunk drivers whose licenses are suspended continue to drive. Therefore, the experts recommend that along with ALR laws that ignition interlock devices be used to deter driving while under the influence. The legislature is also considering ignition interlock devices this year for first time offenders.
The bottom line is that we must do everything possible to curtail drunk driving. Even if this legislation saves just one innocent life, it is worth the fight. I am serious about saving lives in Tennessee and will continue to push this legislation until we do just that.
State Senator Mae Beavers
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
Senate District 17: Wilson, Trousdale, Smith, Macon, Clay, Cannon, Dekalb, and Sumner