It is well known that during the holiday season, there is an increase in drivers who are under the influence out on the roads creating a serious safety threat to other drivers. In the year 2020, alcohol was responsible for 293 deaths in Pennsylvania in alcohol-related car crashes. On an average day, there are twenty-one car crashes from drivers under the influence, and 65% of car crashes involving alcohol cause severe injuries. It is heartbreaking to hear of another innocent mother or child, killed or injured from being on the road with an irresponsible driver. We rely on the government to keep our roads safe, by disincentivizing and penalizing drunk driving.
Pennsylvania DUI Laws
The law in Pennsylvania is that one cannot drive or be in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If someone has a blood alcohol level of .08 (about two drinks) or higher they can be convicted for a DUI offense. The penalty for a DUI depends on the number of prior offenses and the circumstances of the current offense. Appropriate punishments are determined by prosecutors and a judge and can be a fine, license suspension, and even jail time. The laws keep evolving to try to create more suitable punishments, to prevent those who would drive under the influence from doing so.
New Law for Drunk Driving in Pennsylvania
Last week in Pennsylvania, the House of Representatives passed a new law with stiffer penalties for repeat drunk drivers. The bill passed through the House and will now travel to the Senate for consideration. If passed it will become law. The bill suggested increasing the penalty for those convicted of a third or more subsequent DUI with a .16 or higher blood alcohol content, a drug-related DUI, or refuse a breathalyzer or blood test.
There was bipartisan support in the House, and the bill passed with 168-32 in favor. The bill is named in memory of Deanna Eckman, a 46-year-old Delaware County resident, who was killed in 2019 by an intoxicated driver in a car crash. The driver had five prior DUI offenses and would have been behind bars at the time of the accident if he had served consecutive sentences.
Debate Over the New Bill
Rep. Christopher Quinn (R-Delaware County) sponsored the bill and addressed the House in support of it. While speaking to the House he explained, “the very point of this legislation is named for Deanna to better protect those we love.” He continued to describe how the bill would go after the worst of DUI offenders, and subsequently keep drivers safer on the road.
There was opposition to the bill from some of the representatives who felt that the new punishments were too severe for the crimes. Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware County), raised his concerns with the bill stating, “this is yet another example of legislature creating new crimes and longer sentences for an act that is already illegal.” He cited the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s concern with the bill making refusing a breath test if one has a prior DUI a felony crime. He also argued that the bill would take power away from the judges and hand it to prosecutors and police.
Rich and Roseann DeRosa, Eckman’s parents supported these reforms in honor of their daughter. In a powerful statement, Rich DeRosa said, “Don’t think for a minute that this tragedy couldn’t happen to your family. I used to think that, now there’s an empty chair at my table and a hole in my heart.”
Alternatives to Jail For DUI
The goal of the justice system is to set offenders on a path of rehabilitation and not just to punish them. When it comes to DUI and drug crimes, this is especially true since offenders are typically suffering from a substance abuse disorder. Therefore, there are courts in Pennsylvania that offer offenders credit for serving time in a substance abuse treatment program instead of jail time. This can hopefully allow offenders to receive the treatment they need and prevent them from reoffending.
Most DUI offenses are by teenagers and young adults who may not be aware of the consequences and the danger of their actions. Law enforcement needs to tread a careful line of protecting civil liberties while protecting lives. The need to increase solutions to the DUI epidemic is pertinent. Solutions may range from rehab programs, stiffer sentences, and educating youth about the dangers involved. Hopefully, with a concerted effort by lawmakers and law enforcement, the road will be a safe place for all drivers.
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