PA DUI laws may expose drivers to accidents involving repeat offenders

In Pennsylvania, drunk driving accidents have fallen almost 25 percent in the last decade, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. Still, with 400 lives lost in 2012 alone, accidents involving drunk drivers still clearly pose a threat to people in Media. A recent state Senate committee hearing called attention to the role that state policies may play in failing to prevent accidents involving repeat offenders.

Multiple 'first offenses'

Pennsylvania's DUI laws diverge from those of other states in a few important ways, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Unusual provisions or loopholes may allow repeat offenders to continue driving or evade appropriate punishment.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that if a person has been arrested for DUI but not yet convicted, any subsequent arrests must also be treated as first offenses. Additionally, law enforcement authorities are not permitted to confiscate a driver's license immediately after a DUI arrest. People arrested for DUI may continue driving for months afterward.

This policy may create needless public safety risks, as one extreme case illustrates. In 2011, one Pennsylvania man was arrested for drunk driving five times. He still had his license at the time of sentencing.

Fortunately, the man did not cause any accidents while driving intoxicated. Still, his story is alarming. Besides being permitted to continue driving and endangering other motorists, the man did not receive a punishment that kept him off the roadways for a significant length of time. Since each offense was considered a first-time offense, he only received a 10-day suspension for each one.

Preventing repeat offenses

Pennsylvania's laws may also leave innocent drivers in danger by failing to require ignition interlock installation for first-time offenders. More than 30 other states have taken this step, which can significantly improve safety. Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports the following facts about DUI offenders and ignition interlocks:

  • About one-third of drunk driving arrests, accidents and resulting injuries involve repeat offenders.
  • After losing their licenses, 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue driving regardless.
  • Research shows that ignition interlocks reduce drunk driving offenses by 67 percent.

Pennsylvania law mandates ignition interlock installation for second and subsequent DUI offenses. Under current state laws, though, repeat offenders with multiple "first offenses" escape interlock installation. Additionally, leaving out offenders with just one DUI arrest may be dangerous. Statistics from MADD show that even first-time offenders are often habitual drunk drivers who have driven intoxicated at least 80 times prior to arrest.

The state Senate's decision remains to be seen; in the meantime, drivers in Media may face a steep risk of accidents involving intoxicated drivers, including those with a known history of driving drunk. Anyone who has been hurt in such an accident should consider speaking with an attorney about pursuing compensation for the resulting injuries.