Repeat DUI offenders need tougher penalty

The penalties for driving repeatedly under the influence in Pennsylvania got significantly tougher on Dec. 23, thanks to a law passed by the General Assembly in October, then signed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Although the new law is a big step in the right direction, in reality, the new measure can be judged as too generous to repeat DUI offenders — drivers who endanger the well-being and lives of innocent people, as well as their own.

The new law’s main provision of establishing the state’s first felony for DUI should have been established to kick in with a second offense, rather than with a third offense.

By not being as tough as it could be, the new law also doesn’t give enough attention to the damage or destruction to public and private property resulting from DUI crashes, as well as to the damage or destruction of the vehicle or vehicles involved.

A driver who doesn’t heed the lesson from a first DUI arrest doesn’t deserve much, if any, leniency for a second one. There would be nothing wrong with Pennsylvania having the toughest DUI law in the nation.

The new law being what it is, though, drivers need more reminders about the tougher penalties that have gone into effect. Electronic message boards such as those along Interstate 99 are a great resource for disseminating a brief message such as “Repeat DUIs now a felony in PA.”

The new law’s main provisions also could be noted prominently on an information sheet accompanying driver’s license and vehicle registration renewal forms sent out by the state, and be available in pamphlet form at places such as courthouses and lawmakers’ offices.

The Mirror published an article about the new law on Dec. 27, but that’s no guarantee that everyone who should have read the article did so. For those who didn’t, here are main provisions:

n Felony status when someone has been charged with a third DUI offense in a decade with at least twice the legal alcohol limit, or for any fourth-time offender. The legal alcohol limit for driving is 0.08 percent.

n Longer mandatory jail time for anyone who, stemming from a repeat DUI violation, unintentionally causes someone’s death.

n Increased fines and other penalties for driving under the influence on a license suspended because of a DUI conviction.

Prior to the new law’s going into effect, all DUI offenses in this state were treated as misdemeanors.

Misdemeanors carry lighter penalties; crimes of that category also carry fewer other consequences.

Applying felony status to certain DUIs was long overdue, considering data showing that Pennsylvania currently has about 250,000 repeat DUI offenders.

Meanwhile, approximately 10,000 alcohol-related accidents occur in this state annually, claiming the lives of approximately 300 people.

People of this state often have wondered how a repeat DUI driver, especially someone who has been arrested for a fifth, sixth or seventh time, could still be able to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. The reason had been that penalties weren’t strong enough.

Although not as tough as it could be, the new law provides added incentive for people not to drive drunk. In the months ahead, there should be attention to DUI statistics to gauge how well the tougher measure is working.

In the meantime, the attitude “I won’t get caught” has become much more stupid, even for those without two DUI arrests on their driving record.