Last year, my Assembly minority colleagues and I introduced legislation that resulted in the adoption of new, lower limits for DWI. That legislation has helped save lives. Now, I am pushing for laws to further protect our citizens from drunk drivers by targeting severe drunk drivers and repeat offenders by keeping them off the roads for longer periods of time.
Because the majority of drunk drivers who are arrested in New York have a BAC level of more than twice the new 0.08 limit, our six-point Assembly minority plan would create a new crime of "Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated" for drivers found to have a BAC of 0.18 or higher, punishable as a Class E felony for first-time offenders. In addition, those with prior convictions could face a Class C felony, with prison terms up to 15 years. I am also supporting an additional provision that would suspend the driver’s license of repeat offenders to 30 months. Currently, suspensions are limited to one year.
Studies published by the National Highway Transportation Safety Board show that 41 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide are alcohol-related. Similarly, hardcore drunk drivers (BAC of 0.15 or higher) are 385 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident. Additionally, repeat drunk drivers are seven times more likely to be killed in an accident than sober drivers. Since the average BAC of a drunk driver arrested in New York state is 0.17, a significant number of offenders fall into this category.
With sobering statistics like these, I wonder how many of the 478 people who died in drunk driving accidents in New York during 2002 could have been saved had tougher DWI laws been enacted. The good news is that the lower 0.08 BAC saves 1,000 lives a year nationally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The bottom line with any DWI legislation is to save lives. I believe that the best way to prevent fatalities is to keep drunk drivers off the roads. The new crime of "Aggravated DWI" for those arrested with a 0.18 BAC or higher would mean harsher penalties for these offenders. Tougher laws combined with restricting plea bargaining for convicted drunk drivers and increases in the length of suspensions for repeat offenders will better protect countless New Yorkers.