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National Transportation Safety Board Goes After ’Hard-Core’ Drunk Drivers

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants states to make drivers caught with high blood alcohol concentrations or repeat drunk driving offenses a high priority, USA Today reported Dec. 8.

NTSB said that 70 percent of the drunk-driving accidents last year were caused by so-called “hard-core” drunk drivers. According to a new Michigan law, “hard-core” drunk drivers are individuals who have a second DUI offense within 10 years of their first, or who are found to have at least 0.15 percent alcohol content in their blood.

“Hard-core drunk drivers are, in many ways, resistant to the countermeasures we’ve applied since the early ’80s,” said Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety at AAA. The percentage of road fatalities related to drunk driving dropped from 50 percent in the early 1980s – when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded – to 32 percent in 2009, when 10,839 people were killed.

The NTSB said they want states to implement an 11-point plan to deal with repeat drunk drivers that would include sobriety checkpoints and “alternatives to jail.” The complete plan has not been put into effect in any state. 

“You’re seeing harsher and harsher statutes being enacted in various states across the country,” said Joanne Michaels, who directs the National Traffic Law Center. She said that district attorneys are charging drunken drivers in fatal crashes as severely as possible.

According to Anne Teigen of the National Conference of State Legislatures, several states took action on the issue this year. In California, drivers convicted at least three times of drunk driving can now lose their licenses for 10 years. Missouri requires that drunk drivers at or above 0.15 percent alcohol content serve time in jail. Hard-core drunk drivers in Vermont must have devices in their vehicles that lock their ignitions if they try to drive after drinking.

Texas has one of the highest rates of fatalities linked to drunk driving. It is one of ten states that prohibit sobriety checkpoints, and lawmakers plan to introduce a bill to change that next year. State Rep. Todd Smith said that previous attempts to pass a law allowing checkpoints were opposed by “drunks, people who make money off drunks and civil libertarians.”

According to MADD, nine states besides Texas forbid sobriety checkpoints, including Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

MADD wants federal lawmakers to require that all first-time DUI offenders get ignition locks. It also is asking that Congress allocate $60 million to create and test improved ignition-lock technology to be put in all vehicles. 

Sarah Longwell of The American Beverage Institute said that MADD’s plans went beyond hard-core drunk drivers. “Rather than focusing on the hard-core population, there has been this move to target moderate social drinking,” she said. She favored graduated sanctions for offenders and mobile patrols for DUI offenders instead of sobriety checkpoints. 

Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD, said, “We believe that anyone who drives drunk is a potential threat to kill or injure people.”

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