Will North Dakota’s Tougher Drunk Driving Laws Work?

Kayla-Pulvermacher-Jan-16-2013

Earlier this year the legislature passed laws making North Dakota’s DUI laws tougher. Today those laws take effect.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • The minimum fine for first-time offenders goes from $250 to $500.
  • First-timers with a BAC twice the legal limit – 0.16 percent or greater – will now be guilty of a new aggravated DUI category with a minimum fine of $750 and a mandatory two days in jail or 20 hours of community service.
  • Repeat offenders get mandatory probation and participation in the 24/7 sobriety program which requires daily alcohol screenings.
  • Repeat offenders also face minimum sentences ranging from 10 days in jail for a second offense within seven years to one year and one day for a fourth offense and beyond.
  • A fourth offense, and all subsequent offenses, are now Class C felonies punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
  • Drunken drivers who kill another person now face a Class A felony offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
  • Refusing to submit to a blood/breath test is now as serious a crime as a DUI.

The question is, will these reforms work? Not many of the advocates of the “get tough” approach to drunk driving like to admit it, but tougher enforcement hasn’t worked well in the past. In pushing for DUI reforms, Governor Jack Dalrymple pointed out earlier this year that DUI arrests have increased by 53% since 2001. Yet, despite that increase in arrests, alcohol-related fatalities and injuries on North Dakota roads have gone up too (though in the context of a 29% increase in vehicle miles traveled on our roads).

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I don’t think these tougher laws are going to save any lives. I don’t think tougher penalties are going to make drunks think twice before getting in a car any more than being a mother to drunk driving victims made Sandy Hernandez (a media star for the proponents of DUI reform during the legislative session) refrain from getting behind the wheel after drinking. Two years from now, I think we’re going to see about the same number of alcohol-related deaths and injuries on our roads as we’ve seen for the last decade.

What we are going to see is more enforcement costs. Mandatory sentences will require more jail space in a state where our jails are already bursting at the seams. More time required from law enforcement officials to monitor the sobriety of DUI offenders, and the fulfillment of their probation/community service.

In short, we’re going to spend a lot more tax dollars to accomplish very little in terms of traffic safety. That’s my prediction, anyway.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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