Do We Really Need to be More Compassionate to Drunk Drivers?

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Do We Really Need to be More Compassionate to Drunk Drivers?

By Jim and Connie Russell.

Do We Really Need to be More Compassionate to Drunk Drivers?

If ever there was a word when it comes to the crime of impaired driving that causes a victim’s stomach to turn, it is the word “mistake.” We hear it far too often; that an impaired driver made a mistake when they crashed into a family, and killed them. It was only a mistake when a drunk driver ran down a pedestrian leaving her in a vegetative state. That it was just a mistake when a man with a low blood alcohol content of just .12 slammed into the back of a car critically injuring a passenger who never regained consciousness. This young man lingered in a coma for 8 days before finally dying with his mother by his side. The last victim I mentioned was my wife’s son, Matthew.  Too many of these tragedies are occurring in our state, yet Florida is on the brink of moving in the wrong direction concerning a strategy to address Driving Under the Influence (DUI.)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2018 crash statistics, Florida ranks number three in the nation for DUI fatalities with 814 men, women and children dying on our roadways.  Instead of acknowledging the seriousness of this violent crime, Senator David Simmons has proposed the significant softening of impaired driving laws for first time arrestees. Note that I did not call them “first time offenders” as Senator Simmons does. Citing the 2014 FBI Crime report, MADD states that the average drunk driver commits the offense an estimated 80 times before finally being arrested.  Senate Bill 1396, which the senator proposes, would mandate diversion for many first-time arrestees. However, as we already know this applies to persons who more than likely committed this crime over and over and over again.

We oppose this bill.   According to a recent study from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, “A high-risk impaired driver is likely to drive with a BAC of .15g/dL or higher — or after consuming drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs — and to do so repeatedly . . . .Whatever the impairing substance, the high-risk impaired driver is highly resistant to changing his/her behavior despite sanctions, treatment or education and poses an elevated crash risk.”

DUI offenders through Florida’s existing diversion programs already avoid impaired driving convictions, thanks to cooperating prosecutors who agree to lessor charges.  The system is already quite compassionate toward drunk drivers yet this bill seems to suggest even more is needed. We suggest that more compassion should be afforded the victims and survivors of impaired drivers, not offenders. Senator Simmons has made it clear that he cares about the future of drunk drivers but what about the future of that mother we spoke of earlier whose only child was killed because a drunk driver chose to drink and drive?  What does Senator Simmons propose to do about her future?

The bill points to the monetary costs to offenders. These are the consequences of the offenders’ choices, and they are nothing compared to the costs, both monetarily and emotionally, that impact victims and survivors of drivers who make the choice to drive drunk  Also, the bill expressly focuses on impaired driving related to alcohol and makes no mention of drugged drivers or drivers operating vehicles who are impaired on a combination of alcohol and drugs. It is woefully inadequate if it seeks to effectively address the problem of driving under the influence. This bill only serves to protect drunk drivers and does nothing to protect you, me, our family and loved ones as we travel on our roadways.

Rather than proposing legislation that gives offenders a break that already exists under Florida law, we should strongly enforce our current DUI laws and when gaps are identified, address them with effective solutions, not ineffective legislation such as SB 1396.  We need to stop enabling impaired drivers to drive impaired!

Jim and Connie Russell

Jim is the a former Deputy Chief Jim Russell (ret)

FSU Police Department

Former Chair, Leon County Multi-Agency DUI Strike Force

We Save Lives Advocate and Speaker

And Connie Russell, is a We Save Lives Advocate and Speakero

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