Lawmakers Urged To Strengthen Dwi Laws

Leading anti-DWI advocates today joined Attorney General Spitzer in urging state lawmakers to break the logjam that has stalled action on stronger DWI initiatives.

"There is so much more the state can and should do to further reduce alcohol-related accidents," Spitzer said. "DWI laws are lifesavers."

Since approval of several landmark laws in the mid-90s, there has been little action on DWI in New York despite clear evidence of problems and a pending federal penalty on states that fail to adopt an important DWI countermeasure lowering the permissible Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) for motorists.

Elizabeth Obad, State Chair of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said: "On behalf of MADD in New York State, I urge the Senate and Assembly to come together and pass life-saving legislation targeting the high BAC driver and repeat offender. Many precious lives will be saved and countless injuries prevented."

Marge Lee, a victim of a drunk driver, said: "Our state legislators have the power to save lives. I can think of no better reason for our lawmakers to pass the much needed and long overdue, DWI legislation that has languished in Albany for too long. As someone permanently disabled in a DWI crash that killed my eldest son and injured my three and five-year old children, I implore our legislators to do all they can to spare other families the heartbreak and devastation caused by drunk driving."

Spitzer and the advocates called for the enactment of the Attorney General's "None for the Road" agenda, which would:

  • Require the extended revocation of a driver's license if an individual is convicted for a third DWI offense within five years, or fourth offense within 10 years, and increase criminal penalties for repeat offenders who commit vehicular manslaughter;
  • Strengthen penalties for those who operate a vehicle with a BAC above .20. These heavy drinkers have been associated with the greatest number and most severe crashes;
  • Lower the per se level of intoxication for operation of motor vehicles from the current .10 BAC standard to .08;
  • Create a statewide program that uses ignition interlock devices as a condition of sentencing for DWI offenses. The device prevents the use of a vehicle by an intoxicated person;
  • Suspend the registration of a vehicle owned by an individual whose license is suspended for DWI; and
  • Develop a new targeted treatment initiative that would provide inpatient rehabilitative services to those convicted of certain alcohol-related offenses.
Patricia Bodnar, a victims advocate for MADD of Orange County, said: "We must do more to protect the lives and limbs of innocent people on our roadways. We have to treat drunk driving as the serious and violent crime that it is. The Legislature must pass .08, permanent revocation for serious, repeat offenders and other aggravated DWI laws. This package will save lives and reduce injuries."

Don Barrett, who lost his son to a drunk driver, said: "The DWI Legislation advocated by the New York State Attorney General reflects the leadership in the prevention of death and injury caused by drunk driving. I urge the State Legislature to pass this needed legislative package as soon as possible."

Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Bodnar and Mr. Barrett all serve on the Attorney General's Crime Victim's Advisory Board.

Nationally, alcohol is to blame for more than 40 percent of urban traffic deaths, according to a study conducted by Louisiana State University. But the study found that cities and states that had strong alcohol regulations and tough enforcement had the lowest rates of drunken-driving fatalities.

By lowering the legal BAC level from 0.10 to .08, experts believe highway fatalities would be reduced by at least 7 percent. There were 419 alcohol-related fatalities in New York in 2000.

The approval of the .08 BAC threshold legislation is also a condition of receiving additional federal transportation aid. Congress set September 30, 2003 as the deadline for states to make the change, offering a share of $500 million as an incentive for states to adopt the new limit before the deadline. Beginning next year, New York stands to lose two percent of its federal highway dollars ($12 million) if the .08 percent standard is not instituted. The penalty continues to climb in subsequent years to an 8 percent revenue loss by 2007.