Stiffer penalties needed for drunken driving

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 23, 2000

A new bill signed by President Clinton on Monday takes an important step in discouraging drunken driving in America, but we need to do more.

By requiring states to set the threshold for drunken driving to .08 percent blood alcohol, the bill creates a new national standard for measuring drunken driving.

And, its proponents expect it will do two things: discourage drinkers who realize the likelihood of garnering a DUI or DWI charge increases with the lower standard and, second, give law enforcement authorities more leeway to potentially dangerous drunken drivers off the roads.

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In states like Mississippi and Louisiana, where the threshold for DUI violations is .10 percent blood alcohol content, the new standard is a welcome tool in helping combat drunken driving.

But it is not enough. Opponents of the measure have argued — and rightfully so — that the measure does little to prevent an equally dangerous and life-threatening group of drivers — the repeat offenders. Tougher penalties are needed to do that. Mississippi’s law requiring law enforcement agents to impound vehicles of second offenders is a noble attempt, but it leaves too many complications to be resolved.

We need stiffer monetary fines, longer suspensions of driver’s licenses, higher insurance rates … in short, more discouraging penalties for the men and women who get behind the wheel of a car or truck drunk.

Drunken driving is a high-profile issue, yet we’re not stopping it. According to the Associated Press, 15,786 traffic deaths — including more than 2,200 children — were attributed to drunken driving in 1999 alone.

A lower national standard will help take some of those dangerous drivers off the streets, hopefully before they hurt someone … but it is not enough. Stiffer penalties are needed for the violators.