There Is Some Really Bad DUI Policy Being Discussed In North Dakota
Over the last year here in North Dakota there were several very ugly and tragic incidents of drunken driving that got a lot of sensational media coverage. Now that sensationalism is driving a lot of knee-jerk policy-making which is unfortunate because if you look at the actual data, the rate of alcohol-related traffic accidents and injuries per vehicle miles driven is actually declining in the state. There’s been a 14% increase in injuries and fatalities since 2002, but during that same time frame there’s been a 17% increase in the number of miles driven statewide.
But when it comes to public outcry driven by sensational media coverage, facts like this don’t matter. There’s only the demand that policy makers “do something,” and the willingness of some pandering politicians to go along. Some want drunk drivers branded with a sort of “scarlet letter” on the driver’s licenses. And then there’s state Rep. Ed Gruchalla (D – Fargo) who appeared on the Jay Thomas Show recently (with Dave Piepkorn guest hosting) to lay out a dramatic increase in the penalties associated with drunk driving.
First offense: $5,000 fine, 30 days in jail, and a 1 year license suspension
Second offense: $10,000 fine, 6 months in jail, and 5 year license suspension
Third offense and beyond: $100,000 fine, 5 years in jail, and a lifetime license suspension
That’s for offenses committed within a 10-year period, according to Rep. Gruchalla. I know that when it comes to drunk driving, some seem to think “get tough” is the only approach. Case in point, look at the rising number of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities above, and keep in mind that it happened even as arrests for drunk driving rose in the state as well:
In the context of those increased arrests, North Dakota has also passed stiffer penalties including a requirement that some DUI offenders report to law enforcement officials multiple times daily for a breathalyzer test. Yet have more arrests and stiffer penalties made our roads safer?
Not really. Nor, likely, will Gruchalla’s new “get tough” laws. What they will do is significantly increase cost to the taxpayers and ruin a lot of good people’s lives.
Under Guchalla’s proposed laws, someone who had three beers at a BBQ and got pulled over with a .09 BAC (which meets the legal definition of drunk but no reasonable, practical definition) would spend 30 days in jail. How many of you could keep your job after thirty days in jail? And what will the cost be to taxpayers to hold all these DUI offenders in jail?
I can’t wait to see that in the fiscal note for Gruchalla’s proposed legislation.
What’s more, Gruchalla’s laws won’t mean more drunks off the road. It will just mean that the same drunks law enforcement is already catching will face stiffer penalties. Is that really solving the problem?
Remember, the goal is traffic safety, and so far increased patrols and stiffer penalties aren’t reducing injuries and fatalities related to alcohol. More of the same won’t change that. Either we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns, where we’re just going to have to accept that some people are going to drink and drive no matter what we do, or we need to start looking at some approach other than tougher laws and more cops.Tags: drinking and driving, ed gruchalla, North Dakota News