Op-ed: Tougher DUI Laws Create Opportunities to Save Lives

Many Lancaster County residents are familiar with the heartbreaking story of Meredith Demko, an 18-year-old high school senior who was killed by a drunk driver in 2014. Her tragic death left behind a trail of devastated friends and family members whose lives were forever changed by the reckless action of an irresponsible motorist who never should have been behind the wheel.

Sadly, Meredith’s passing is only one in a long string of tragedies related to drunk driving. Too often, we hear stories about reckless drivers who are still creating hazards on the highway after multiple DUI convictions. Inevitably, some of these cases lead to the deaths of innocent victims whose lives were taken far too soon by the indifference of thoughtless offenders.

Pennsylvania’s DUI laws have proven to be ineffective at preventing habitual drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. Without stronger laws to punish drunk drivers, we doom even more families to suffering an unimaginable – and completely preventable – loss. Even one tragedy related to drunk driving is one too many.

That’s why I recently introduced legislation that will enact tougher penalties on drivers who consistently endanger themselves and others by driving under the influence. My bill would help limit the number DUI offenses on Pennsylvania roadways by putting habitual offenders behind bars for an extended period of time.

My proposal would mandate at least two years of jail time for any offender who is convicted of more than two DUIs in a 10-year period. If a habitual drunk driver causes the death of another person, he or she could be charged with a first-degree felony, which is subject to a 20-to-40-year prison sentence. Ultimately, the bill would ensure the most dangerous offenders have far fewer opportunities to make a bad decision that results in a loss of life.

Lawmakers have already taken some steps to strengthen existing laws to prevent similar tragedies.

A year ago, a new law was created to increase the number of DUI offenders who are required to use ignition interlock systems. That measure also improved the collection of evidence to prevent drunk drivers from escaping justice for their crimes. A 2014 law closed a loophole that prevented prosecutors from charging DUI suspects as repeat offenders if they are re-arrested for additional DUIs before a conviction for the original offense. In addition, we are only a few years removed from Pennsylvania lowering the BAC threshold for a DUI conviction from .10 to .08.

These are all steps in the right direction, and these public safety measures certainly played a role in PennDOT reporting a record-low number of traffic fatalities in 2016. But we can do more, and we can do better. It is my hope that we can take another step toward making our communities safer by keeping some of the most dangerous offenders off the road for a very long time.

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

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