A new bill has been introduced in Pennsylvania to take steps towards inflicting stricter penalties on repeat DUI offenders. Backed by Republican state senators John Rafferty and Scott Martin, the bill was lobbied for by Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving (PAPAID).
The group started with four or five families, founded by Elaine and Paul Miller, who lost their son after he was killed by a three-time DUI offender. The group has since grown to consist of 25 families, all grieving losses due to drunk driving.
Back in April, the bill passed the Senate 45-4. Despite the fact that people drive under the influence over 330,000 times each day in the U.S., Pennsylvania remains one of four states that doesn’t see repeat DUI offenses as a felony. Along with Pennsylvania, Maine, Maryland, and New Jersey also do not classify repeat DUI offenses as a felony.
“We have people on their fourth, fifth DUI and it’s still a misdemeanor,” Martin explained. “That’s not OK. It’s frustrating, and it’s preventable.”
Under current state regulations, if a person kills someone while driving under the influence, they will be required to serve three years in jail. This bill aims to make a fourth DUI verdict a felony. Furthermore, if a third-time offender has a BAC of 0.16 or higher or if all three DUI sentences were within a 10-year period, they would also face a felony charge.
Additionally, the new bill would require increased penalties for those who choose to drive with a suspended license after receiving a DUI and minimum sentences will be increased for repeat DUI offenders who are involved in fatal crashes.
Each year, there are about 5.5 million car crashes in the U.S. alone. Because of the high number of crashes caused by drunk driving, more states are taking action to put stricter laws in place. More states, including Pennsylvania, are utilizing checkpoints to help officers enforce DUI laws, especially around holidays where there is heavier drinking.
According to PennDOT data, there were 12,137 impaired driving-related accidents in Pennsylvania just last year. These high numbers are what continue to motivate groups like PAPAID to push for stricter DUI laws. While laws related to DUI regulations have been difficult to push lately, according to Martin, people are more motivated than ever to make some positive changes.
Martin and Rafferty have hopes that Senate Bill 961 will be passed before this year ends. This issue remains an important topic of discussion as this bill, and other DUI-related regulations, make their way to the governor’s desk.