Will stronger PA law on repeat DUI offenses result in fewer accidents?

A new Pennsylvania law that stops repeat DUI offenders from avoiding proper punishment could help prevent alcohol-related accidents.

In late 2014, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a bill to ensure that convicted drunk drivers are punished properly for repeat offenses. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the bill changed sentencing guidelines for repeat offenses and increased penalties for chemical test refusals. These changes should help address the threat of drunk driving accidents in Brodheadsville by keeping more repeat offenders off the road.

Serious offenders unpunished

Before this bill passed, drivers who were arrested for DUI multiple times over short chronological periods weren’t always sentenced as repeat offenders. In 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that drivers must be sentenced as first-time offenders before being charged as repeat offenders. This precedent allowed some repeat offenders to be charged as first-time offenders multiple times.

As an example, one Pennsylvania man was arrested five times within one year for DUI. During each arrest, the man registered a high blood alcohol concentration level. The man would have faced over 3 years in jail if he had been charged as a repeat offender in the last four offenses. However, he was instead charged with five first-time offenses, each carrying a sentence of just 10 days in jail.

Now, judges can consider multiple pending sentences and punish offenders more appropriately. The new law also has established steeper penalties for repeat offenders who refuse chemical testing. This removes any incentive for refusing chemical testing. Together, these changes should result in more offenders facing appropriate sanctions, including jail time and license suspension. This, in turn, may help deter future offenses and reduce DUI accidents.

Stopping subsequent offenses

These legal changes also may result in more convicted DUI offenders installing ignition interlock devices. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, ignition interlock device installation is mandatory after all second-time and higher offenses.

If more repeat offenders are charged as such and required to use ignition interlock devices, the safety benefits could be significant. Mothers Against Drunk Driving offers the following statistics to demonstrate the benefits of ignition interlock use:

  • Effective ignition interlock programs have been shown to reduce drunk driving among prior offenders by 67 percent.
  • Interlocks stop recidivism more effectively than license suspension, since up to 75 percent of convicted offenders drive despite license suspension.
  • Interlocks offer life-saving benefits; four states with all-offender interlock laws have seen DUI fatalities fall over 30 percent.

Unfortunately, even if Pennsylvania law now addresses repeat offenses more effectively, first-time offenders still provide cause for concern. According to MADD, repeat offenders only play a role in about one-third of DUI arrests, accidents and deaths. Therefore, drunk drivers may still present a significant threat to motorists in Pennsylvania.

Anyone who has been hurt because of an intoxicated driver’s reckless actions should consider consulting with an attorney. A personal injury attorney may be able to help an accident victim better understand his or her legal rights and options.

Keywords: Pennsylvania lawmakers, Drunk, Drivers, Test, Serious, Supreme Court, Arrested, Judges, Transportation, Ignition interlock device installation, Accidents, Deaths, Personal injury attorney, Victim