New Georgia DUI Laws in Effect

The New Year rang in with new DUI laws in Georgia. Effective Jan. 1, 2013, convicted DUI drivers are eligible to get limited-use permits sooner than before under the condition that they complete state requirements. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill, Senate Bill 236, in April 2012. It states that anyone who has a suspended license because of a 2nd DUI conviction in 5 years may apply for a limited driving permit after serving 120 days of driving suspension and showing proof of enrollment in clinical treatment. Drivers must also obtain a certificate of eligibility for an ignition interlock device and prove that they have had one installed in their vehicle and in every vehicle they operate.

The support for the new law stems from the intention of getting help for repeat drunk drivers who may need treatment, and to allow them to still have transportation access to school, work, community service, and other obligations.

Under previous law, 2nd time offenders had to wait 1 full year before applying for a driving permit. Georgia’s state chapter of MADD released a statement, saying, “We are in support of the changes, but do not think they go far enough. We need to make sure that first time offenders are interlocked so they do not repeat offend.”

NHTSA Announces that Drunk Driving Fatalities Dropped in 2011

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is celebrating a historic milestone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released new data showing that the number of drunk driving fatalities in 2011 fell by 2.5% compared to 2010. The number of people killed in drunk driving accidents (DUI) in 2011 was 9,978, and for the first time this number is below 10,000.

The number of people killed in drunk driving crashes in 2010 was 10,136. The 2011 fatality rate also outpaced the 1.9% decrease in overall highway deaths. MADD National President Jan Withers said, “This drop in deaths is an important milestone in our nation’s ongoing fight against drunk driving and is further validation that MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® is working. MADD urges state lawmakers to take advantage of recently passed federal funds available for states requiring all convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device.”

According to the NHSTA, the costs of alcohol-related vehicle crashes is estimated at $37 billion annually. The number of fatalities in 2010 equated to one person being killed every 51 seconds in an alcohol-related crash.

Many states will now require the ignition interlock device for repeat DUI offenders. In some cases, even first-time offenders may be ordered to install the device in their vehicle. Late in 2012, Alabama joined many other states by reforming their DUI laws and requiring these devices for certain drunk drivers.

MADD began the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® in 2006, and since the inception of this program the number of drunk driving fatalities has dropped by 27%. The main components of the campaign includes encouraging law enforcement efforts to set up sobriety checkpoints, pushing lawmakers to require ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers, and supporting the development of technology of breathalyzers and blood analysis to test blood alcohol concentrations.

Will New Texas DWI Laws Pass to Allow for Sobriety Checkpoints?

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee met Monday in Austin to discuss creative ways to curb DWI in the state. San Antonio police Deputy Chief Anthony Trevino urged legislators to allow for permanent DWI checkpoints that would allow law enforcement to stop drivers and do routine sobriety tests near “drunk driving hot spots.” The deputy police chief’s idea was opposed by Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project who said that this would allow for police abuse of power.

Harrington said, “Once you start setting these roadblocks, you are basically saying the government has control over your movement.”

State Representative Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, the committee chairman, wanted “creative ways” to reduce the number of DWI’s in Texas, and said that the committee was looking for a change in DWI laws to “get on the front end of the problem.” In 2010, drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.08 killed 1,259 people on the Texas roadways. California, which has the second highest number of DWI deaths in the country, had 791 deaths in 2010 caused by drunk drivers.

Gallego said, “It’s always bothersome when California does something better than Texas. California – with more cars, more drivers and more people – still has less DWI-related deaths than Texas does.” This hearing was Pete Gallego’s last in the state Capitol, as he was elected on November 6th to represent U.S. House District 23.

Bexar County (San Antonio) District Attorney Susan Reed expanded “no refusal” weekends to every day of the year starting in April 2012. This means that anyone suspected of DWI in Bexar County will be required to have their blood tested if they refuse the breathalyzer. Reed said of their policy, “We are now the largest metro area in Texas to have an absolute no-refusal policy.”

Bill Lewis, MADD’s public policy liaison, asked legislators to support sobriety checkpoints by passing laws to allow police officers to conduct them. He said checkpoints could save 200 lives in Texas every year. Lewis said of lawmakers, “We have asked them to provide those guidelines for, what is it 18 years? They haven’t done it, so may it’s time to try something else.” He said he would be surprised if the checkpoints do get passed into law because he recognizes that some see checkpoints as government playing “big brother.”

Lewis did suggest to the Legislature that all first-time DWI offenders be required to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicle, which would prevent a car from starting if the driver has any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. Under Texas law, it is the discretion of the judges whether the ignition interlock device is used for DWI offenders.

Texas prohibits checkpoints based on the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, however the Corpus Christi Police Department claims to have found a loophole. Public Information Officer for the Department, Julie Garcia, claims that the department does conduct what they call “driver’s license checkpoints” routinely. If during this driver’s license checkpoint a driver is suspected to be impaired, the officer can conduct field sobriety tests, which if failed, the driver “can and will be arrested.”

Driver’s license checkpoints are also used in Lubbock County, according to Assistant District Attorney Tom Brummett, who said that these checkpoints are an effective way to legally target DWI drivers. He said, “Even though we can’t use DWI or sobriety checkpoints, the law does allow us to use driver’s license checkpoints, vehicle safety checkpoints.”

Woman Sues Bar Under Dramshop Law After DUI Arrest

A Masury woman is suing the Middlesex Tavern because after being served she was arrested for DUI. The woman suing, Ruth D. Morocco, says that bar employees should not have served her.

Morocco claims that there was negligence and refers to the Dram Shop Law that prohibits serving a patron who is visibly intoxicated. According to Morocco, she began drinking at Middlesex Tavern on April 23, 2009 and into the early morning hours of April 24th. She claims that within the sight of employees, that she fell off her chair and was loud and obnoxious during her time there. At 2a.m., Morocco left the Middlesex Tavern, and on her way home she crashed her vehicle into a ditch and several trees. The Southwest Mercer County Regional Police were called at 2:15a.m.

She is seeking unspecified money for loss of earnings and the ‘ordinary pleasures of life, anguish, pain, and other suspected injuries, including damage to her right knee and ankle which were broken in the crash.

The defendants rebutted that Morocco ordered one drink at 10p.m. then disappeared into the ladies restroom for 20 minutes, and when she emerged she appeared intoxicated. They say Morocco tried to order another drink but the bartender denied the request.

It is possible to sue a bar under dramshop laws but extreme negligence on the part of the bartender must be proven. Businesses in Pennsylvania need to recognize signs of impairment from their patrons, which include slurred speech, drowsiness, stumbling, and glassy, bloodshot eyes. Pennsylvania Liquor Code, of Section 4.493(1), states that it is unlawful to “permit any liquor or malt brewed beverages to be sold, furnished or given, to any person visibly intoxicated, or to any minor.”

Will Utah Ease Liquor License Restrictions?

Utah law distributed liquor licenses based on population quotas, and this causes restaurants and bar to wait months before they are able to obtain full-service licenses allowing them to serve all alcoholic beverages, from wine and beer to liquor. For national chain restaurants, this wait is a deterrent from opening a business at all in the state.

Utah has a tough regulatory system for liquor which gets them a good rating with MADD. Pamela Erickson, former Oregon Liquor Control Commission director, made a comment to Utah lawmakers, “MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) rates you number one of all the states. You have the best record, according to MADD. Your underage drinking rates are some of the lowest in the nation. My advice is don’t mess with success!”

Like Erickson, opponents of looser liquor laws say that public safety will be put at risk. Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said that the balance between profit from liquor sales and the cost to public safety does not pay out. He said, “If you look at what you have to pay out for the social costs versus what you receive in for the taxes, those balances don’t occur. It is costing you more to have that accessibility.”

MADD Responds to Increase in Traffic Fatalities in 2012

Traffic deaths rose 9% in the first half of 2012, an increase that broke a 5-year downward trend of automobile fatalities in the United States. The preliminary data cannot yet be explained by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who said the report had not examined the causes.

MADD responded to the report by reiterating their belief that all convicted drunk drivers should use an ignition interlock device, MADD National President Jan Withers said, “MADD has a plan to eliminate drunk driving once and for all and states must do their part by passing all-offender ignition interlock laws.”

Withers pointed to the data that ignition interlocks work to prevent drunk driving, she said, “There is no longer a debate on interlock effectiveness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 15 other peer-reviewed studies, have confirmed that interlocks reduce repeat drunk driving by two-thirds.”

Congress funded a $20 million ignition interlock incentive grant program last July as part of MAP-21. States can receive special funding for interlock programs if they have legislation that requires all convicted drunk drivers to get an interlock device.

Because offenders and not the states pay for the interlock program, Withers says “there are no more excuses for states” to not implement this legislation.

MADD in DC for National Conference

MADD ConferenceThe non-profit organization MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is in Washington D.C. for their National Conference this week. Over 300 drunk driving crash victims, survivors, volunteers and supporters are taking part in legislative meetings in an attempt to convince Congress to act on two issues:

  • Full funding for priority highway safety programs
  • Passage of a Constitutional Amendment providing for crime victims’ right

MADD is urging Congress to include the full $265 million in annual funding to implement the new federal surface transportation legislation known as MAP-21, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. MADD believes full-funding of this program is imperative to drunk driving prevention, occupant protection, distracted driving protection, motorcycle safety, improved graduate driver’s license laws and data collection, all which is needed to save lives and prevent injuries on the road by drunk drivers.

The organization is concerned that inaction of fully funding the program will force states to make even more difficult choices regarding exactly how to fund long-term traffic safety projects. MADD National President Jan Withers said, “The lack of funding for key highway safety programs is not only problematic for states’ budgets, but the American people will end up paying a much higher price through deaths and injuries. Efforts aimed at impaired driving prevention, along with other safety measures for teen drivers, vehicle passengers, and motorcycle riders should not be an afterthought.”

MADD would like Congress to also pass a Constitutional amendment to protect crime victims’ rights, which are currently only protected by statutes in the state.