The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board comes out in favor of scrapping the DUI 30 day hard time rule

Last week, I posted a blog post about a pending bill in the Illinois legislature that would end the 30 day hard time rule which prevents first time DUI offenders from getting a driving permit until they have served 30 days of their statutory summary suspension.

Now, the Chicago Tribune editorial board has come out in favor of it too.

Here is their editorial, which is pay-walled on their site (why would they want to keep people from reading their opinions?):

Illinois law says that if you’re arrested for drunken driving, you’re supposed to serve the driver’s version of “hard time.” That is, you can’t drive, period. This “hard time” is supposed to be 30 days for first-time offenders and up to three years for repeat offenders.

But people steer around that law in several ways. Some simply drive without a license. Some work out plea deals with local prosecutors to pay hefty fines so they can avoid a suspension.

The Illinois State Bar Association has proposed a way to end the evasion — by ending the “hard time” period of suspensions.

The ISBA proposes that motorists charged with DUI be required to install ignition interlock devices that test for alcohol on a driver’s breath. They would drive — sober — with the interlock instead of losing driving privileges. The presumption is that more drivers would pay to install the devices and drive legally, rather than drive illegally or cut deals to avoid suspension.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving — long an advocate of ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders — is on board with the idea. So is the Chicago-area advocacy group called Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists. They’re not exactly known as pushovers on drunken driving.

State Senate President John Cullerton, who has passed valuable traffic safety laws in recent years, tells us that he supports the idea. “There’s an evolution in this area from the hard suspension which was sacrosanct” years ago, he says. Now, advocates recognize that “it’s safer to have people driving with the interlock than to have them illegally driving, as many of them do.”

This page has supported broader use of ignition interlock devices to help curb intoxicated driving. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended in 2012 that states mandate interlocks for all DUI offenders. The states with the strongest interlock laws, such as New Mexico, Arizona and West Virginia, have seen greater reductions in drunken driving deaths than the national average, MADD reports.

The threat of automatic suspension is a strong deterrent — when it’s enforced. That would be our preference, but it’s not easy to force local prosecutors and municipalities to give up their deal-making.

So we can see value in using interlocks after an arrest. That change would not affect how DUI offenders are punished after a conviction.

A first conviction for a misdemeanor DUI in Illinois carries a revocation of driving privileges for at least one year, two years if you’re under age 21. If your blood-alcohol level is more than twice the legal 0.08 limit, there’s a mandatory minimum $500 fine and 100 hours of community service. Depending on circumstances, including whether anyone was hurt in a crash of if there was a child in the car, penalties escalate, including possible jail time.

This interlock proposal could help curb a widespread and infuriating practice exposed by the Tribune last year. Local prosecutors in some suburbs cut plea deals to reduce DUI charges and collect wads of cash for municipal coffers. Those arrested often pay those fines to avoid a license suspension. The prospect of driving with an interlock instead of serving “hard time” might reduce the incentive for these municipal workarounds.

This all depends on how the concept is translated into proposed law. If a bill is presented to them, lawmakers should make sure it doesn’t create new loopholes in safety law. The message shouldn’t change: Drink. Drive. Pay.

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