Utah may be the first State to go to a 0.05 BAC “legal limit”

Four years ago, the NTSB recommended that the DUI “legal limit” be lowered from 0.08 to 0.05, which would put the United States in line with most other countries.  As I have noted in the past, the research as to whether 0.05 BAC is a better indicator of impairment than 0.08 is muddled.

Now, Utah, a State that has always had strict laws about alcohol sales, is looking at being the first in the nation to lower its limit to 0.05.

From the Chicago Tribune:

…state Rep. Norman Thurston, a Republican from Provo who plans to introduce a bill on the issue in the upcoming legislative session, wants that to change in 2017.

Impairment starts with the first drink, and we want to establish this state as one where you just simply do not drink and drive,” said Thurston, noting he worked with officials from the Utah Highway Patrol while drafting the legislation. “This is all about safety.”

…A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chart shows how a blood-alcohol concentration of .05 — about three drinks in one hour for a 160-pound man — causes, among other things, altered coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects and difficulty steering a motor vehicle.

For men weighing less than 160 pounds and for women, it takes even fewer drinks to reach the .05 threshold. If Utah makes the change, it will join several countries in Europe — such as Austria, France and Germany — that have blood-alcohol limits of .05. (In Poland, it’s .02).

In 2013, the NTSB released a report recommending that states lower to .05 the limit at which people can be prosecuted for drunk driving.

…Art Brown, president of the Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told the local Fox affiliate the group would not support Thurston’s proposal. Instead, he said, the group prefers to focus on interlock devices prohibiting people from driving drunk.

“MADD’s position is we really emphasize interlocks and getting those on people and staying .08,” Brown said.

The state has long had a fraught relationship with alcohol. Mormons, who are forbidden from drinking liquor, make up nearly 60% of the population.

…In Utah, alcohol is not a major cause of fatal automobile crashes. Drunk driving was a contributing factor in about 13% of fatal crashes last year, according to the Utah Highway Safety Office. By contrast, speed played a role in 37% of deaths, and no seat belt use was a factor in 31%.

Last year, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White stated that he believed that the 0.05 limit needed further study before he could support a chance.

With new year, new law will end the 30 day “hard time” wait for DUI driving permits

As the Chicago Tribune noted over the weekend, as of January 1, 2016, there will no longer be a 30 day “hard time” period before people who are suspended for first time Illinois DUIs can get a driving permit.

The new law ends an anachronism that had kept a 1980’s era law on the books despite recent changes in Illinois drunk driving laws that made the hard time period unnecessary and counter-productive.

In Illinois, first time DUI offenders receive a license suspension if they either fail or refuse a breath, blood or urine test.  The suspension is six months for failing the test and twelve months for refusing.

This suspension law has been around in one form or another since the 1980s. The idea was to get drunk drivers off the road without having to wait for their DUI case to be resolved.

Since 2009, these first offenders have been eligible for a Monitored Device Driving Permit (“MDDP”) which allows the person to drive their car 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so long as their vehicle is equipped with a breath alcohol ignition interlock device (“BAIID”).

However, as a holdover to the old law, there was still a 30 day “hard time” rule, which was designed to keep drunk drivers off the road.  Since now there is a BAIID requirement, there is enough of a safeguard that the person won’t drive drunk, so there was no longer any need for the wait.  In light of that, Congress removed the 30 day hard time provision that was a condition of Federal Highway appropriations back in 2012, with the blessing of MADD.

It took Illinois another three years to act on this and remove the 30 day wait time.

You may ask, “why should we do anything that helps drunk drivers?”

And here are the reasons:

  • They can’t drive drunk with a BAIID installed on their car.
  • If they do somehow drive drunk (or stoned), they will be charged with felony and face one to three years in prison, if not more depending on his or her background.
  • This will discourage people from driving while suspended during that 30 day time period, as well as skipping out on the BAIID restricted permit altogether since it wasn’t helping them during the hard time period.
  • It will also give prosecutors more reason not to agree to rescissions of the license suspension for people who have a hardship with the 30 day hard time provision (although it is still a useful tool for prosecutors as a carrot to dangle to encourage guilty pleas).

 

Officer allegedly drives drunk to accept an award from MADD. This happened in Florida, of course.

From RawStory.com:

fficer Michael Szeliga of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department showed up to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving conference in Fort Lauderdale so drunk that he could not even walk straight.

Szeliga was scheduled to receive an award at the conference, for making over 100 DUI arrests, but he actually showed up drunk himself, and it is assumed that he drove himself to the conference in that state. However, the officer denies that he drove drunk and insists that he only had one or two drinks before the conference.

“It was wrong, and again, one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard of. When I first heard about it, that was (what) my reaction was. ‘Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me. Really?’” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Once his supervisors encountered him, they described him as being “wasted” and sent him back to his hotel room to miss out on both the conference and his award.

After the incident, Szeliga was reprimanded and was given one day of paid suspension, and was forced to write an apology letter to the supervisors for being belligerent with them. Szeliga was scheduled to be promoted to detective and his promotion was not affected by the incident at the conference, he now works as a detective in the sheriff’s crimes against children unit, according to WFLA.

Oddly enough, this is actually not the first time that we reported on a story like this. Around this time last year, David Griffin, acting chapter president for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and a former deputy police chief was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Since the incident, Griffin has resigned from his position with MADD after 18 years of being a CEO and high-ranking member of the organization.

Back in 2011, Debra Oberlin, a former president of MADD was arrested for driving with an alcohol level that was three times the legal limit.

A Smart Tweak to DUI Victim Impact Panels to Reach Younger Offenders

Illinois DUI offenders are required to attend a Victim Impact Panel (VIP) as part of their sentence.  At a VIP, offenders sit in an audience and listen as victims of drunk driving accidents, family members, or convicted drunk drivers talk about the damage that can happen on the ride home from a night of drinking.

In a pay-walled story on the Chicago Tribune’s site, Barbara Brotman, writes about how these Victim Impact Panels are getting a smart tweak, in order to reach younger DUI offenders.

From the Tribune:

Other [Victim Impact] panels offered by [the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists], which holds 140 of them a year in the Chicago area and collar counties, address offenders of all ages. But Rita Kreslin, executive director of the alliance, worried that they were missing their mark with the younger crowd.

Kreslin, whose son John was killed in a crash at age 19, took note of young people she saw when she spoke at victim impact panels.

“I’d see those kids file out that didn’t look old enough to have a driver’s license (and) they’re thinking, ‘Well, that doesn’t apply to me; the guy next to me was an old man,'” she said.

She wanted to create panels that would clearly apply to young people, some of whom also face charges of underage drinking or reckless conduct, at a pivotal point in their lives.

“I’m not going to teach some 40-year-old how to make better choices,” Kreslin said. “But the kids, it’s more of a restorative program.”

She proposed having panels specifically for young people to officials of the DuPage County court system over the summer, and the chief judge approved her plan.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin is a supporter.

“I think someone who is under the age of 24 looks at life a lot differently than someone who is in their 40s or 50s,” he said.

A number of chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving across the nation already hold victim impact panels for young people.

And the national organization last January rolled out a program for teenage offenders called Start Making a Right Turn, or SMART, that incorporates a victim impact panel, information on the developing teenage brain and strategies for not drinking until the legal age of 21.

MADD Illinois hopes to start offering the SMART program in Berwyn after Jan. 1, said state Executive Director Sam Canzoneri.

The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists victim impact panels for youths currently are offered only in DuPage County, though Kreslin is working to expand it and said officials in other counties have expressed interest. Last month’s panel at Benedictine University was only AAIM’s second geared for young people.

MADD gives Illinois its highest rating for DUI Enforcement

From Stateline.com:

Illinois is doing something right when it comes to drunk driving prevention.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving rated Illinois a “Five-Star State”, the highest possible rating from the group.

“We are honored to receive this recognition from MADD” says Secretary Ann Schneider.  “We have zero tolerance for drunk driving and along with law enforcement throughout the state, we work hard to put programs in place to keep our motorists safe.”

Some of the reasons for Illinois’ top rating is for the all-offender ignition interlock law that went into effect in 2009, as well as sobriety checkpoints.

The rating comes from MADD’s 2014 Campaign to eliminate Drunk Driving report.

I am not surprised.  I will quote myself from a few weeks ago:

According to the Secretary of State, 29% of DUIs result in convictions and 66% result in supervision (a disposition only available for first time offenders).  Only 5% of cases fit into “other” which I assume means either not guilty, reduced to a lesser charge or some other type of dismissal.

So this means that in Illinois, the prosecution wins 95% of the time in DUI cases!

…According to the Secretary of State 85% of DUIs are committed by first offendersThe number of recidivists are small.  The system is working.

Research muddled at best about 0.05 BAC change

Over the weekend, the Chicago Tribune ran a front page story about the proposed change to reduce the “legal limit” blood alcohol level to drive to 0.05 (from the current 0.08).  As you can see from the article, not even MADD supports the change.

From the article:

Research suggests that lowering the legal limit of intoxication to 0.05 could save 500 to 1,000 lives a year.

But many safe-driving advocates are conspicuously silent on the issue of whether 0.05 is high enough impairment to merit criminal charges. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is standing down, as is Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. The venerable Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which notes that it never takes formal positions on policy, said police will have trouble enforcing 0.05.

At the core of concerns about 0.05 is the tricky issue of when alcohol impairment becomes criminally negligent. How does slight alcohol impairment differ from impairment caused by drowsiness, cellphone use, medication, aging or other conditions? Is it reckless to get behind the wheel after two glasses of wine at a dinner party? A large beer at a Blackhawks game? A couple of cocktails at a reception?

Research on the topic is voluminous — and resembles a weaving car.

The National Sleep Foundation states that drowsiness is very similar to alcohol impairment and “can impair driving performance as much or more so than alcohol,” according to a report on the topic. Being sleepy can slow reaction times, limit vision and create lapses in judgment and delays in processing information, the foundation states.

“In other words,” the foundation reports, “driving sleepy is like driving drunk.”

A 2003 study by University of Utah showed that motorists who talk on cellphones — hands-free or not — are as impaired as drivers at a 0.08 BAC. Study participants drove slower and hit the brakes and accelerated later than those driving undistracted. Drunken drivers drove slower than cellphone users and undistracted drivers but more aggressively. They also followed more closely and hit their brakes more erratically, the research showed.

As to whether such a thing as responsible drinking and driving exists, some research shows that lane deviations and attention lapses occur at a BAC as low as 0.001. MADD and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommend no one drive after drinking.

But the American Beverage Institute, which represents restaurant and bar owners, calls the 0.05 recommendation an effort to “criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” saying that less than 1 percent of traffic fatalities in the U.S. are caused by drivers with a BAC from 0.05 to 0.08. The organization points to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data showing that 70 percent of drunken driving deaths involve a driver with a BAC of 0.15 or higher

Wider use of ignition interlocks is central to MADD’s efforts, too. J.T. Griffin, the organization’s senior vice president of public policy, said MADD supports 0.08 as the limit of legal intoxication in large part because research over 50 years shows definitively that everyone is seriously impaired at that level. Impairment below 0.08 becomes a little more uncertain.

Griffin said pushing to make 0.08 the law “was such a tough battle to fight. We sort of established it as the across-the-board level.”

MADD is taking a more practical approach — including recommending that ignition interlocks be mandatory for all DUI offenders — in continuing its fight against drunken driving. Twenty-one states and four counties in California require interlocks for all drunken driving offenders. In Illinois, first-time DUI offenders must obtain one if they want to drive.

“We’re doing a lot of really positive things,” Griffin said, “and we feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum. To shift to 0.05 really goes against what we’re doing.”

Like many, Griffin said impairment happens below 0.08, but “what that level is, I don’t really know.”

Read the full story here: http://my.chicagotribune.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-77226096/