Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Stiff Sentence for Drunk Drivers in NY

I'm not sure how much of a threat the law has to present before drunk driving is curtailed, but New York seems to have taken a pretty serious step in the direction of dulling the enthusiasm of the imbibing crowd. The NY House today passed a bill that would make it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the car. That could mean four years in jail if it passes the Senate and is signed by the governor.

There's more to the bill: A first-time conviction requires that the drunk driver install a device in his car that would measure his booze intake before the car would start. Other states have that stipulation, but usually after two or more convictions. The felony is virtually unheard of. A felony is a serious crime (think murder, rape, robbery) and to my mind it is proper in drunk driving cases. Virginia classifies drunk driving as a Class I misdemeanor with maximum punishment at $2,500 in fines and a year in jail (rarely imposed). You also lose your driver's license. That's serious, but it's not the hammer presented by the NY law.

New York would join Arizona if it passes a law classifying driving drunk with kids in the car as a felony. Statistics have shown that the alcohol-level device installed on cars reduced repeat offenses by 65 percent, according to the NYTimes.

As one who used to regularly drive drunk (I'm a recovering alcoholic, as I've said before), and one who has driven drunk with children in the car, it is my opinion that I would not have driven drunk had penalties been as harsh as the four years in prison for a first offense that New York is considering. My guess is that most drunk drivers are good citizens otherwise who simply don't think about what they're doing. They'd think a little longer if they knew they were going to the clank for four years or more.

I don't normally believe that draconian sentencing does much beyond overburdening prison populations, but in this case, considering the offenders, my guess is that it would work much more readily as a deterrent.

There's no excuse for drunk driving. No logic for it. No explanation for it other than mindless, thoughtless stupidity. The prison sentence would serve as the 2X4 between the eyes that got the mule's attention.

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