WASHINGTON – With deaths from alcohol-related traffic fatalities rising,states need tougher laws to get hard-core drunk drivers off the road,prosecutors,police and transportation officials said Thursday.
To help educate federal and state officials and raise awareness about drunk driving,the Century Council,a non-profit organization funded by distillers,released its “Hardcore Drunk Driving Sourcebook” at a press conference.
“This resource manual provides a lot of information that is a useful tool when up before a legislative panel,” said Doug Gansler,the chief prosecutor in Montgomery County,Md.
The sourcebook was created as a part of the Century Council's National Hardcore Drunk Driver Project. In 1997 the Council began the project with the intent to raise federal and state officials' awareness about the need to do something about the rising number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
Deaths in alcohol-related traffic accidents rose to the highest level since 1996 in 2001 and 2002,according to the sourcebook. In 2002,17,419 people died in accidents in which alcohol was a factor. In 58 percent of those accidents,drivers had blood alcohol levels of at least .15,almost double the legal limit in most states.
“More than 43,000 people died on the highway this year,” said Ellen Englemen,chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. She said more and more people who are drunk are “repeatedly behind the wheel.”
The sourcebook includes a survey of laws in all 50 states and offers recommendations to law enforcement officers,judges,prosecutors and state legislators about how to deal with hard-core drunk drivers.
Gansler,known for his efforts to toughen Maryland’s drunk-driving penalties,said there are three levels of drunk drivers. There is a lower level,with a blood alcohol level below .15, a middle range with an alcohol level of about .15 and the hard-core drunk drivers,whose levels can reach .2 or higher.
“The legislature is trying to pass the super-drunk bill in Maryland this year,” Gansler said in an interview. “The super-drunk bill enhances the penalties for hard-core drunk drivers.”
The Century Council defines a hard-core drunk driver as a person who drives repeatedly with a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher. The hard-core drunk also has more than one drunk driving arrest and is highly resistant to changing his or her behavior despite previous sanctions,treatment or education.
“People who are above a .15 are treated differently,” said Gansler. “There is different legislation,different prosecution and different sentences.”
Gansler said he thought Maryland is in the middle on drunk driving laws and punishment compared to other states. But he added,there is still a long way to go,especially when dealing with repeat and super-drunk drivers.
Gansler emphasized the importance of governments working together,locally and nationally,on drunk driving punishments. He said the sourcebook “is very informative,very detailed and will be very helpful in fighting DWI's,” or driving while intoxicated charges.
The sourcebook highlights programs that show promise in preventing hard-core drunk drivers from committing future offenses.
“We have to work together to assist state legislatures to make the right legal decisions,” said Englemen. “Prosecutors,courts and laws all intervene after a driver's first offense,it's important to help right away.”
“The privilege to drink is not the privilege to drive,” Englemen said.