New Drunk Driving Law Further Penalizes Repeat Offenders

Drinking and driving is a problematic issue, one which has been aggressively confronted in order to prohibit repeat offenders from getting back on the road. On August 15, 2010, House Bill by Republican representative from LaPlace, Nickie Monica, went into effect and will cause substantial changes for second time DWI offenders in the state of Louisiana. This bill is specifically directed at repeat offenders for drinking and driving or vehicular negligent injury.

Previously, a second time offender would still drive legally if they obtain permission from the Department of Motor Vehicles, who would grant an offender upon being petitioned, a restricted license (also known as a hardship license). This type of license allows the offender to drive a vehicle only to certain destinations, such as work, school, a medical emergency, or church. The Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicles declares such a license as a “means to earn a livelihood or to maintain the necessities of life.” However, the restricted license requires the individual to have an ignition Interlock device installed into the vehicle they will be driving. The ignition interlock device is connected to the vehicle’s ignition, and once the person blows into a tube which screens for the presence of alcohol, the car may or may not turn on depending on the result. This device has been criticized because the offender may have another person who has not been drinking breathe into the tube, thus, allowing the vehicle to start, despite the fact that the offender may have been drinking. Thus, drinking and driving has continued to plague the state of Louisiana.

Furthermore, Louisiana in 2008 had the 11th highest drunken driving fatalities in the nation, with over 912 people killed due to drinking and driving. It was this type of statistic that motivated Representative Monica to propose the repeat offender bill in order to initiate change. Specifically, the new bill will not allow the repeat offender to obtain a restricted license for at least 45 days. This time period will be known as a “hard suspension” that cannot be waived or shortened for any repeat DWI offender. But that is not the only significant change with House Bill 1274, if an offender has three or more convictions there will be a three year suspension upon the persons license. Moreover, unlike a second time offender who has to wait 45 days to petition for a restricted license, a three or more time offender has to wait 12 months before they can petition for such license and have the ignition interlock device installed. The new bill will institute stronger oversight and rigid time requirements in order to crack down on repeat offenders ability to get back on the road so soon after multiple convictions.

Additionally, offenders of drinking and driving accidents face multiple liabilities including negligent vehicular manslaughter and drinking and driving, as well as driving under the influence citations. However, the state, a state agency, or a political subdivision of the state may not be held liable for any person who operates a motor vehicle, an aircraft, water craft, or vessel who was operating it with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more. (La. R.S. 9:2798.4). Further, it is interesting that the offender may owe damages, including those recoverable in a wrongful death action (personal injury, death, or loss) if they are found to be twenty-five percent negligent as a result of being intoxicated, or if the person is found to be in excess of twenty-five percent if under the influence of any controlled dangerous substance listed in Schedule I, II, III, IV, or V. Thus, when an eighteen year old bartender attempted to hold her employer liable for allowing her to consume alcohol on the business’ property, the court held that the owner had immunity from liability since the underage woman’s fault exceeded the twenty-five percent as a result of being intoxicated over the limit (Stewart v. Daiquiri Affair, Inc., 20 So. 3d 1041 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2009)). The person left with responsibility, is the one behind the wheel, and the consequences become increasingly more serious with each subsequent DWI conviction.

As a result, the new bill will prohibit repeat DWI offenders from driving on the road for extended lengths of time, regardless of whether or not they need to drive to obtain the “means to earn a livelihood or to maintain the necessities of life.” Whether or not this is an actual deterrent for recidivist, time has yet to tell. However, the two time offender will have to halt driving for 45 days, while the three time offender will have their license suspended for three years. These time requirements are in addition to the fines and/or jail time that may be imposed. The House Bill’s goal is to act as a deterrent to state residents, that if they choose to continually jeopardize themselves and others on the roadways, they will have to pay the price, both in time and in money.

Drunk drivers put many lives at risk when they get behind the wheel. Injuries that result from an individual driving drunk carry with them a high burden of culpability and responsibility in future litigation. Liability, as a result, is highly slanted against that driver.

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