Feds Lobby States for Tougher DWI Laws

The federal government is urging states to adopt its 11-point plan to get dangerous drunk drivers off the road.
by | December 14, 2010

Often, we write about cities and states lobbying on federal lissues.

But now, as new governors are being sworn into office and state legislatures start new sessions, the federal government is lobbying states to beef up their DWI laws.

The National Transportation Safety Board is urging states to strengthen their penalties against "hard core drunk drivers" -- those who have repeat DWI offenses or one DWI with a blood alcohol content of.15 or greater, twice the league limit in most places.

These drivers contributed to at least 7,607 DWI fatalities last year, representing more than 70 percent of all vehicle deaths involving alcohol, according to the NTSB.

The agency has a set of 11 elements targeting hard core drunk drivers, which it's pushing states to implement.

NTSB is promoting the proposed regulations through public relations efforts, presentations at government conferences and meetings with state leaders and legislators, Danielle Roeber, chief of NTSB's safety advocacy division, told Governing.

Since the NTSB started its advocacy on the issue 10 years ago, all states have considered related legislation, and 36 plus Washington, D.C., have adopted at least one element of the program.

But work remains to be done, Roeber said. Some elements -- such as implementing statewide vehicle checkpoints -- carry political baggage. In other cases, states may favor a different approach such as extending jail terms, increasing fines and lengthening license suspensions.

But those traditional methods of "getting tough" on drunk driving might not be the best way to handle hard core drunk drivers.

While jail time could cause a social drinker who's had one too many to rethink his decision to get behind the wheel, it's likely not a deterrent for a hard core drunk driver, Roeber said.

Instead, NTSB favors an approach that proactively keeps hard core drunk drivers off the roads via sobriety checkpoints, sanctions to keep them away from their vehicles, and legislation that mandates hardcore drunk drivers to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.0 when driving, among other provisions.

Below is the NTSB's entire 11-point plan it wants states to implement.

No state has implemented the entire list, but California, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah and Virginia have come the closest.

Here are the 11 elements, courtesy of NTSB:

1) Statewide sobriety checkpoints

2) Vehicle sanctions to restrict or separate hard core drinking drivers from their vehicles

3) State and community cooperative programs to enforce DWI driver's license suspension and revocation

4) Legislation to require that DWI offenders maintain a zero BAC while operating a motor vehicle

5) Legislation that defines a high BAC (0.15 percent or greater) as an "aggravated" DWI offense

6) Alternatives to confinement, such as home detention with electronic monitoring. This is because some places allow community service in lieu of jail time, which NTSB would like to avoid.

7) Legislation that restricts the plea bargaining of a DWI offense to a lesser, nonalcohol-related offense

8) Elimination of diversion programs that permit erasing, deferring, or otherwise purging the DWI offense record or that allow the offender to avoid license suspension

9) Administrative license revocation (ALR) for BAC test failure and refusal

10) DWI record retention and DWI offense enhancement look-back period of at least 10 years

11) Individualized sanction programs for hard core DWI offenders.

You can find information on which states have implemented each aspect of the NTSB's package at the agency's site.

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