On the heels of a month marked by extensive media coverage of the Orange County trial of Andrew Gallo–the San Gabriel man, who, despite having his license suspended for a prior DUI conviction, took the wheel after a night of binge drinking and killed Angeles’ rookie pitcher, Nick Adenhart, and two friends in an early morning collision–news has broken of a new law that will impact DUI repeat offenders. Starting January 1, 2012, judges will have the option of revoking an individual’s license for up to 10 years if that person has three or more convictions for driving under the influence within the past decade. The law is just one of many efforts by state legislators and officials to combat drunk driving in California.
Annually 1.5 million people are arrested for driving under the influence in this state, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). DUI repeat offenders account for one-third of those arrested. A recent study of the percentage of drivers with alcohol-related convictions in the nation’s 20 largest cities by insurance.com found that the greatest number of violators resided in San Diego, followed by San Jose in second place, Los Angeles in seventh, and San Francisco in eighth. The high incidence of convicted drivers in these cities was attributed to three factors: a higher rate of alcohol consumption among the population, “more partiers,” in general; a lack of public transportation; and effective enforcement of drinking-and-driving laws.
Over the last 30 years, numerous laws have been passed to prevent drinking and driving in the United States:
In 1984, the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act was signed into law. Under the law, states that fail to prohibit the purchase or public consumption of alcohol by an individual under the age of 21 will have 10% of Federal highway funding withheld from them. In effect, this law raised the national minimum drinking age to 21.
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints were legal under the constitution.
In 1995, the Federal Zero Tolerance Law was passed, making it illegal for individuals under 21 years old to drive with any measurable amount of blood alcohol content (BAC) in their blood. Highway safety funds would be withheld from any state failing to comply with the law by October 1, 1998.
In 2000,.08 BAC became the national illegal limit for impaired driving. Under the law, a percentage of federal highway construction funds would be withheld from any state failing to comply.
To date, 14 states have enacted laws mandating DUI first-time and repeat offenders to install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. California, however, has only implemented a pilot program in four counties: Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Tulare. Drivers with the device are forced to breathe into a tube connected to a machine that measures alcohol levels; if alcohol is detected, the machine will prevent the ignition from starting. The device not only prevents those with DUI convictions from drinking and driving, it also serves as a deterrent to all drivers, as it considerably increases the cost of receiving a DUI. Legislators will consider expanding the program statewide after a 5-year evaluation.
In California-and nationwide-efforts to combat drunk driving have had an impact on the number of fatal alcohol-related accidents. Throughout the country, such accidents decreased by almost 10 percent from 13,041 in 2007 to 11, 773 in 2008. In California, there were 108 fewer fatal accidents in 2008 than in 2007, from 1,347 to 1,239. Hopefully, the fatality rate will continue to decline with the state’s increasingly aggressive DUI enforcement and harsher penalties.
James Ballidis is a California injury attorney and the author of several books and articles on issues involving personal injury law. If you would like to request a book or an article or discuss a specific case, feel free to call 866-981-5596.