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State’s approach to DWI needs to expand

January 30, 2014
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Even one innocent person hurt by someone driving while intoxicated is too many.

It has taken decades, but New York has created some of the toughest DWI laws in the nation - laws that surely have helped decrease the number of drunk drivers on New York's roads. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to take someone's license if they are convicted of drunk driving twice in three years and permanently revoke someone's license after three DWI convictions is a piece of legislation that should be passed. Drunk driving has been proven to be a leading cause of accidents, particularly fatalities. No one will ever say the state shouldn't make it as difficult as possible for those repeatedly convicted of driving while intoxicated from getting behind the wheel.

The problem is tough punishment will never mean eliminating drunk drivers from our roads. New York already has some of the toughest penalties for DWI in the nation, yet Cuomo is shocked that there are 47,000 drivers with three or more drunk driving convictions who still have driving privileges. In Chautauqua County, the existing tough DWI laws haven't resulted in much of a decrease over a 10-year period. State statistics show 774 DWI arrests in the county in 2003, 662 misdemeanor and 112 felony. In 2012, the last year statistics were available, those numbers had dropped slightly to 651 DWI arrests, 551 misdemeanor and 100 felony arrests.

Even limited progress is wonderful news, but Cuomo shouldn't kid himself with this new DWI proposal. There will always be a percentage of the population who are undeterred by the threat of punishment. Cuomo's three strikes approach will remove some drunk drivers from the road, but DWI is a problem that will unfortunately never be cured by punishment alone. Studies show 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers will drive with a suspended or revoked license. Those who see fit to drive drunk, even under the current harsh punishments, are likely addicts for whom strict laws and heavy-handed punishment provide no pause to drinking and driving.

Increasing penalties makes for good headlines, but solving the state's drunk driving problem will involve health and education programs as well as tougher penalties. Perhaps society's energy would be better spent expanding alcohol treatment and education programs to keep those with problems from drinking. In addition to keeping drunks off the roads, it may help with some of the employability issues we hear about from area businessmen.

Expanding the use of ignition interlock programs also makes sense. Ignition interlock systems aren't perfect, but keeping those who have been drinking from being able to drive their vehicles should help other drivers avoid the harm of encountering repeat offenders.

If the state's goal is to save as many people as possible from having to deal with the carnage wrought from drunk drivers, then its approach needs to include more than just increased punishments.



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