December 30, 2014

Will Colorado’s Felony DUI Bill Reduce Drunk Driving?

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In January, Colorado lawmakers will consider a new DUI bill (HB 1036) making repeat DUI offenses a felony. Currently, Colorado is one of just five states plus the District of Columbia without a felony DUI law. DUIs in the state are treated similarly in the eyes of the court whether it is a first or tenth offense.

Recent news about Denny Lovern, who racked up 16 DUI convictions in 30 years, has raised concerns that the state legislature hasn’t done enough to address serial drunk driving. If passed, the new law would create minimum jail sentences for drunk drivers with three or more offenses in the last five years.

Similar Colorado bills have failed in the past. Some debate whether a felony DUI bill would really make a difference in preventing impaired driving. They claim that some individuals will drive drunk no matter how severe the proposed punishment. And they point to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showing that while alcohol-involved highway deaths increased in 2012 (the latest year for which state-level data is available), DUI deaths decreased in four of the jurisdictions without felony DUI laws, including Colorado.

But supporters of the bill counter that a felony DUI law is about more than just dissuading potential drunk drivers or even punishing offenders—it is about public safety. Some believe putting hardcore drunk drivers behind bars is the only way to take people like Lovern off the road to keep them from injuring or killing others. Without the option of a felony DUI, the prosecutor in Lovern’s case is using charges like attempted first-degree assault and attempted manslaughter to try to obtain a jail sentence.

Why hasn’t a felony DUI law been passed in Colorado? Many believe it has to do with the high cost of incarceration, as well as a preference for treatment. However, treatment and punishment are not exclusive to one another and a felony DUI bill may give prosecutors and judges more choices for handling repeat offenders.

Do you think felony DUI laws and mandatory incarceration help reduce intoxicated driving, or do states need to focus on other options to deal with extreme repeat offenders?



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The acronyms DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI all refer to the same thing: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most commonly used terms are DUI, an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, and DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired.
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