Magnarelli: Keeping Motorists Safe from Drunk Drivers

June 16, 2006

It’s summer time and New York’s roads and highways are as busy as ever. While many of us just want to enjoy traveling with our families, others are getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink – not only endangering their own lives, but also the lives of those they share the road with.

To keep drunk drivers off the roads and to protect our families, I worked with my colleagues in the Assembly to pass important legislation that helps keep motorists safe.

Unfortunately, the Syracuse region has played witness to senseless deaths that took place when repeat drunk-drivers got behind the wheel. Brandi Woods was a 15-year-old student from Memphis, N.Y., who was killed while delivering Girl Scout cookies on March 17, 2005 – by a drunk driver with three prior DWI arrests. The driver received a sentence of only one- to three-years. Bill Leaf was a 25-year-old reporter for Syracuse’s WSYR radio station, who was killed by a drunk driver on Jan. 8 of this year. The driver also had a history of driving while intoxicated.

Working with Maria Leaf, Bill’s sister, and representatives of the Woods family, I introduced the Bill Leaf–Brandi Woods Law, which increases penalties for repeat drunk drivers who kill or seriously injure others while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. By stiffening these penalties, we can hopefully make people think twice before deciding to drink and drive.

I am working with Senator DeFrancisco on passing this measure, and am confident that we will come to an agreement.

Making sure out-of-state DWI convictions are considered

Currently, out-of-state drunk driving convictions are only considered traffic infractions. Legislation I authored will eliminate one of the loopholes that allow repeat DWI offenders to face lesser penalties simply because their prior convictions occurred out of state. The bill focuses on repeat offenders in New York who received prior out-of-state convictions for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. With my measure, the prior out-of-state offenses of these drivers will be given the same weight as a prior New York offense when determining penalties (A.10369-A).

Punishing reckless motorists

Too many motorists make a habit of driving recklessly. That’s why the Assembly is sending a clear message that driving without regard for the law or the safety of others will not be tolerated.

I supported a bill to create the new crime of “vehicular homicide,” so that motorists with a record of repeated, extremely dangerous driving would be charged with a felony punishable by up to four years in jail if they kill another in a collision (A.1653). I also supported another bill that authorizes courts to issue an order requiring a person convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, or of a repeat moving violation, or whom the court has reasonable grounds to believe is not qualified to drive a motor vehicle, to submit to reexamination by the Department of Motor Vehicles (A.1632-A).

Encouraging responsible driving

One of the largest arsenals New York State has in the war on drunken driving are the county Stop-DWI programs, which successfully reduce the number of DWI fatalities. With Assembly measures I supported, these programs will now receive more funding to help keep drunk drivers off the roads.

The Assembly’s safe driving proposal allocates fines received by courts when offenders violate the terms of their conditional licenses (A.1688) and distributes mandatory surcharges from alcohol-related convictions to the county Stop-DWI programs where the convictions occurred (A.953-A).

Our proposal also raises the public’s awareness of drowsy driving as a serious safety hazard by providing information on its dangers through television and radio public service announcements, printed material distributed with each application and renewal of a driver’s license or vehicle registration, and other sources (A.4473-A).

Enhancing roadway safety

The Assembly’s bill package equips police and the courts to better monitor highway safety by:

  • providing for the collection and analysis of traffic data to help the state quickly address dangerous traffic locations (A.8169);
  • setting guidelines for traffic ticket information to help effectively prosecute dangerous drivers (A.130); and
  • creating a State Police motor vehicle collision reconstruction unit to help prosecute collision-related crimes and calling for the designation of vehicular crimes prosecutors by district attorneys (A.3719).

Policing our roadways is a difficult task, and we must ensure that law enforcement officers have the right tools to protect motorists. These bills will help prevent future accidents and keep our roadways safe.

In 2005, the Legislature passed a law I sponsored to increase the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it (Ch. 49 of 2005), and VaSean’s Law, which I supported – to strengthen the penalties for vehicular assault and vehicular manslaughter when serious physical injury or death is caused by a person driving drunk or impaired by drugs (Ch. 39 of 2005).

I am committed to improving the safety of our roads. As the summer travel season kicks into gear, this package of legislation takes a proactive stance in alleviating some of the dangers we all face on the roadways.