Books by John E. Smethers, Ph.D
To reiterate the myriad reasons to abstain from driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol (DUI) would fill a book. I believe, however, there is a need for devising new strategies in an attempt to curtail the high incidence of DUI, and in the process, lower the high mortality and injury rates because of it. Throughout the United States, variations of paying fines, temporary loss of driver license, DUI school, and increased insurance rates is a slap on the hand for a first offense. Let’s examine each of these individually:
Paying a fine, regardless of how much it is, doesn’t curtail the behavior at all. The courts allow payments, just like a department store or any credit-giving institution. The conviction, even though DUI is a misdemeanor, it is still a conviction--the convicts will incorporate payments like they do their car or house payments, or anything else they buy on credit. It simply becomes another bill. By no means am I suggesting that we eliminate fines, if anything, we should raise them considerably. Why should we raise the fines if it doesn’t curtail the behavior? Because we would be doing it, not for punishment, but for restitution.
Not every DUI involves injury to others, the loss of lives, or the destruction of personal property. However, expecting convicts who have deprived others, can’t be expected to compensate the victims alone, so it should be disseminated. This is already being done in many states, but not to the degree that I’m suggesting.
According to MADD (mothers against drunk drivers), first offense fines across the United States range from $200. To $1,000. The statistics for each state can be found at: http://www.whatsdrivingyou.org/laws
I suggest imposing a fine of $10,000.00 for the first offense, and spread the payment plan over a period of years. Part of the proceeds could also be allotted to recovery programs, DUI schools, and drug courts, etc..
Loss of drivers license: This is probably the most debilitating. People need to get to work, so they can make the money to live on, and of course to pay the fines. I don’t need to itemize all the reasons we need transportation. However, if DUI is going to be discouraged, we need to stop slapping their hands. According to the above web site, in the United States driver license suspension for a first offense ranges from ten days to six months--the average is three to four months. During that time they get used to it. They incorporate into their lives a way to get by without driving. Either that, or they drive anyway, which isn’t uncommon. Many even continue to drink and drive. In 1984, I was arrested on a DUI charge while I was going to court for a DUI charge. I still didn’t stop drinking and driving. I was not unique.
Why not revoke their license for five years? If they can get used to a suspension for three to four months, they can get used to it for five years. However, it’s doubtful that they could get away with continuing to drive and/or drinking and driving for five years. With first offenses being so devastating, the incidence of repeat offenders would be considerably decreased. In addition to license revocation, the vehicle should also be confiscated, auctioned off, and the proceeds be divided between recovery programs, drug courts, DUI schools, and victim restitution programs, etc..
DUI school: For a first offense, in California for example, the DUI offender must attend nine weeks of DUI school. A second offense is increased to a year. It was my observation as a counselor in a DUI school, that most offenders resist the education provided to them because they view their forced attendance as punishment, so they resent being there; thereby putting up walls to block information that cold save their own lives and the lives of others. By spreading the required attendance to five years for a first offense, it’s possible that the extensive education would eventually start sinking in--maybe as long as a couple years. Forced education often works. Having attended 12-step meetings for over 15 years, I witnessed many newcomers resisting everything that was being said at meetings. I have also witnessed several of those newcomers achieving lasting, intrinsic recovery. Many of those members were forced into meetings by the courts, child protective services, employers, and spouses. It was either stop drinking or else. The extrinsic reasons for attendance often turn intrinsic after varying amounts of time. Many of them also come and go, and then finally stay. Then others never come back. With mandatory DUI school for five years, there is plenty of time for the counselors to convert their clients’ resistence to a willingness to learn and accept and apply the information that is being offered.
Insurance rates are up to insurance companies. You may be surprised to know that when an insurer does find out about a DUI conviction, it doesn't automatically impose higher premiums. The insurer will look at the insured’s history with the company and their claims record. For example, State Farm's action depends on which subsidiary you're with. If you have a preferred policy with State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. and receive a DUI, State Farm may move you into State Farm Fire & Casualty, which is the standard-policy company. If you're moved from preferred to a standard status, you'll be paying higher rates already. State Farm will also review your motor vehicle and insurance claims history to determine if it needs to raise your rates further. [Source: http://info.insure.com/auto/duiconviction.html}.
South Carolina has ‘integrated’ insurance laws wherein all convictions MUST be reported to insurance carriers and the rates paid MUST be increased by the carriers, in accordance with a legislated formula designed to penalize high risk drivers. Something similar could be done in California, or better yet, nation wide.
Are fines, loss of driver license, DUI school, and increased insurance rates enough to deter DUI offenders. Some of them, of course, but there are those who won’t stop until they are dead. Let’s look at what happens to first offenders in other countries. In Guam they serve a minimum of 48 hours of imprisonment, a mandatory fine of $1,000.00 not to exceed $5,000.00, and a six-month loss of their driving privilege. This information came from http://www.lawyernet.com/members/jimfesq/DDD.html
In Pakistan drinking alcohol is illegal. In Hong Kong if driving under the influence beyond the legal limit, one can be fined and jailed up to three years. Found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driving_under_the_influence
Germany has increased its drunken-driving penalties and now people with a blood alcohol level of .05 or more caught operating a vehicle will have their licenses suspended for a month. Furthermore, if the BAC is between .05 and .079, license is suspended for 90 days,
between .08 and .099 license is suspended for 180 days, for a BAC level of .1 and above, license can be suspended indefinitely. See http://ww2.pstripes.osd.mil/01/apr01/ed040301e.html
Belgium has strict drunk-driving laws, only allowing 0.25mg/ml of alcohol in the blood. Fines range from 125 on-the-spot to 2,500 (if prosecuted) and up to a maximum of 10,000 (if over 0.8mg/l), a six-month sentence and five-year suspension of your licence. This can be found at http://www.shareyourstate.com/worldtravel/belgiumdriving.htm
As you can see, the laws in other countries vary. It is highly unlikely that there is a high incidence of DUI in countries with the harshest laws; therefore, it seems only logical that penalties are such that they actually deter driving under the influence. A slap on the hand is not a deterrent.