This weekend, California began installing permanent signs asking motorists to call 911 if they witnessed a drunk driver on the road.
However, many concerns have already arisen about the wisdom and safety of the DUI program, which as a practical matter requires motorists to place cell phone calls while driving in the vicinity of an impaired driver.
Pulling off the road to place the call would clearly be safer than having an impaired driver and a distracted driver sharing road space, but early anecdotal evidence suggests that it takes several minutes for police to respond to a 911 call reporting a drunk driver. The offending vehicle will likely be lost if the caller does not continue to follow.
The Illinois DUI law change that took effect in January made all DUI offenses felonies if committed by a driver who lacked either a valid driver’s license or valid automobile insurance at the time of the offense. And now, the criminal court is flooded with new charges.
Lake County anticipates that felony DUI charges in 2006 will double the number filed in 2005 and has hired additional staff to handle the increased caseload.
Other counties have seen similar increases, but have thus far been able to handle the cases by reassigning employees and redistributing the workload.
The full impact of the increased caseload isn’t yet apparent, but Rep. William Black (R-Danville), who sponsored the bill, told the Chicago Tribune that he would ask for revisions if enforcement proved too difficult for judges and prosecutors.
The Florida legislature has been very active in DUI matters this year.
Governor Jeb Bush is currently considering a bill that swept through both the House and Senate and will, if signed, amend the statute requiring disclosure to defendants in DUI cases to specifically preclude access to breathalyzer source code.
Another bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate Appropriations Committee this week would have instituted a mandatory minimum two year prison sentence for a fourth (or subsequent) DUI conviction. A judge would have had the authority to substitute treatment for the second year of imprisonment, but could not otherwise reduce the sentence.
The demise of the bill appears to have been based more on the increased costs associated with its enforcement than any philosophical differences, and lawmakers have vowed to re-introduce the idea next session with new cost-cutting measures attached.
If that bill passes, it will make Florida one of the toughest states in the country in sentencing offenders with more than a first DUI offense.