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Improved DUI laws necessary

The Southern Alleghenies region is no stranger to repeat drunken-driver arrests, and that doesn’t mean a single repeat offense.

There have been drivers here who have compiled even five or more DUI arrests, convictions and/or guilty pleas, but have continued to drive, whether alcohol- or drug-impaired or not.

There need to be much tougher penalties, especially once a driver has compiled a third such offense — although beefed-up penalties also are needed for those vehicle operators who are convicted of a second offense of that kind.

A driver not learning the obvious lesson that a first DUI conviction should impart should not be eligible for future leniency — not only for his or her own ultimate well-being but also on behalf of the innocent people who are put at risk by such irresponsible, criminal conduct.

But beyond tougher penalties, there’s more that needs to be done before a driver reaches the point of becoming a repeat offender.

The Governors Highway Safety Association has put forth an idea worth developing and putting into play not only here, but across the country.

According to a report in last Monday’s Wall Street Journal, the GHSA is stressing that law-enforcement authorities — and presumably also the courts — do a better job assessing all DUI offenders to determine their risk of repeating, and whether they need substance-abuse or mental-health treatment.

“What we’re failing to do is get to the root cause of why they’re doing this, what’s behind the behavior,” said Pam Fischer, a traffic-safety consultant who wrote the report for the governors association.

Although the direct targets of the report are high-risk impaired drivers who are likely to repeatedly operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination, Fischer suggests that the assessments her report proposes be extended to other offenders as well — a suggestion that makes sense.

Amid all that is the belief by some drunken-driving-focused public-health experts who support the premise that all states should follow the lead of Utah and many European countries that have made it illegal for anyone to drive with a blood-alcohol concentration of .05 percent or higher.

The blood-alcohol limit for Pennsylvania and the other 48 states is .08 percent.

Some facts, as noted in Fischer’s report:

– Nearly 30 percent of all vehicular crash deaths in the United States last year were alcohol-related; 10,511 people died in crashes involving at least one driver with a blood-alcohol level of at least .08 percent.

– Two-thirds of drivers in fatal alcohol-related crashes last year had blood-alcohol levels of at least .15 percent.

– Between 2006 and 2016, the share of drivers injured fatally who were tested and found to be positive for drugs rose to 44 percent from 28 percent.

– Nine percent of drivers who were involved in a fatal crash and had a blood-alcohol level of at least .08 percent last year had a prior conviction for driving under the influence.

Fischer and the governors group are right in focusing on the fact that underlying issues are contributing in a big way to individuals driving while impaired.

For the benefit of everyone who travels on the nation’s highways, as well as pedestrians, better assessment of DUI offenders, beginning with the first offense, is the logical, best course of action.

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