I am irritated today. I am irritated because I read the article on InForum titled - North Dakota drunken-driving laws to be targeted for harsher penalties. I am not irritated by the general message of the article – that North Dakota legislators will be putting forth legislation that increases penalties – I am irritated by some of the comments of legislators quoted in the article. I am irritated at what appears to be a reluctance to commit to the really strong steps necessary to send a message that drinking and driving will not be tolerated. It seems that some legislators want to show compassion to folks who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers, but then want to soften the much needed reform with a default rationale that the culture of drinking in the state is a big part of the problem.
Well, no duh. This is a state that loves its alcohol. This is a state where folks have been drinking and driving for decades with apparently little regard for their own or others well-being. Some folks in North Dakota make stupid choices that profoundly affect not only themselves, but also innocent others.
Please tell me how North Dakota is so different from other states on this front. Guess what…it isn’t. Folks across the United States love their alcohol. Folks across the United States have been drinking and driving for decades with apparently little regard for their own or others well-being. Some folks in the United States make stupid choices that profoundly affect not only themselves, but also innocent others.
Amazingly, some of those other states – states who also realized that the drinking culture needs to change – realized something profound, something that allowed them to better curb this deadly behavior and reduce injuries and deaths from drunk driving accidents -strong laws can push cultural change. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! Who would have thunk that attaching negative consequences to a behavior would change folks’ behavior? Oh wait, lots of folks probably already recognize that is how many behaviors that have been deemed dangerous have been pushed to change, by criminalizing them and attaching serious penalties to them.
Yet, there was a legislator quoted – Representative Kim Koppelman – who said, “If North Dakotans don’t believe there is a serious problem when you drink and drive, no law is going to change that culture.” Wanna’ bet Koppleman? The right law would absolutely change that culture and the behavior of the vast majority of folks who drink and drive.
Koppleman should step back and listen to folks like Representative Ed Gruchalla who was quoted as saying, “I think stiffer penalties will change societal attitudes.” I think Gruchalla actually gets it and is on the right track.
Gruchella plans to propose legislation that would result in a one year license revocation, 30 days served in jail, and a $5,000 fine for a first DUI offense. A second offense in ten years would garner a five-year revocation, six months in jail, and a $10,000 fine. The third offense would result in a lifetime license revocation, five years in prison, and a $100,000 fine. Gruchalla also supports the use of ignition interlock devices, a tool that Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports strongly.
Gruchalla’s legislation may seem harsh to some, but you can bet it doesn’t seem harsh to the Deutscher or Mikelson families who recently lost three family members when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver. Gruchalla’s legislation is pretty much borrowed from legislation in other states that have moved forward aggressively to address the issue of drinking and driving. It is the type of legislation that has been built across the United States on the heartache of thousands of families who have lost loved ones. Go ahead and tell those folks that legislation that results in license revocation, a steep fine, and jail time for a first time offense is too stiff. I am not psychic, but I am going to guess that a law like that is going to substantially curb drinking and driving in the vast majority of cases.
Of course, there are some who see the effort of such strict laws as somewhat of an exercise in futility. Senator Judy Lee was quoted as saying, “In a state where we don’t have a lot of public transportation anyway, we can’t take people’s cars away. They’re going to drive anyway. We can’t take their licenses away. They’re going to drive anyway.” Okay, let me get this right – if a law is created that some people will choose to not comply with we should abandon that law and throw our hands in the air? Come to your senses Judy Lee! If folks drive anyway when their license is suspended, they need to be subject to having their vehicle confiscated and sold at auction. Gruchalla should add that to his legislation. I don’t think it will take more than a handful of confiscations in the state to dramatically curb that behavior.
The days of drinking and driving with little consequence must be over. This is incredibly dangerous behavior and thousands of people die every year because of it. If you really want to change the culture as it relates to drinking and driving you need to make the behavior personally unpalatable. To do that you need to create penalties that will strike fear into the heart of those who drink and drive. Not many folks are going to brush off a year’s license suspension, a $5,000 fine, and 30 days in jail.
I am with you Gruchalla. It is time for much stricter penalties for drinking and driving. And I don’t care what some of your fellow legislators say – strong laws can change culture. If there are legislators who want to hold on to the belief that laws cannot change culture, then I challenge them to pass Gruchalla’s proposed legislation and check back with me in two years. I promise not to gloat when they tell me I was right all along.
Day one thousand one hundred and eighty-eight of the new forty – obla di obla da