Two bills being considered by the Utah Legislature to provide stiffer penalties for drunken drivers are a good first step. But even harsher punishments are in order.
One proposal, unanimously approved by the House of Representatives, would make a third DUI conviction in a six-year period a third-degree felony. The other would increase the penalty for felony DUI to zero to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.The two bills, while indicating the intention of legislators to crack down on drunken drivers, should not be considered a final solution. If offenders continue to drive drunk, laws allowing more severe penalties should be enacted.
One weakness of the proposal to make a third DUI offense a felony is the time frame. The third conviction should be designated a felony whether the offenses occurred within three years, six years or six months.
Three DUI convictions indicate a serious disregard for the law and the safety of others. No one should be allowed to continue driving with such an attitude, and the lack of concern should be punished.
Even tougher penalties should be considered. In Ohio, police are authorized to confiscate a car and have it crushed if its driver has been caught driving under the influence too many times. This happens even if the driver wasn't the car's owner, provided the owner knowingly and voluntarily lent the keys.
And the owner who lent the car can be prohibited from registering another one for several years.
Ohio is one of 19 states that will take away cars, registrations or license plates. Thirty-six states allow police to revoke licenses on the spot when they stop drivers who have been drinking. State and federal courts have upheld these laws as necessary in the interest of public safety.
In many other countries, repeat DUI offenders lose their cars and right to drive - permanently.
Utah has a serious problem with drunken drivers. In the past 15 years, the state has averaged 100 traffic deaths annually attributed to drunken drivers. The number of people killed by them is historically double the number of homicides per year, yet drunken drivers are allowed to get back behind the wheel.
Besides those killed, 18,650 injury accidents in the past 15 years have been alcohol-related. More than 178,000 DUI arrests were made in Utah during that time and 12,470 arrests were made in 1994. But arrest is not always a deterrent. A fine and even jail time don't deter some repeat offenders.
Let's hope that prison sentences finally make the point that Utahns won't tolerate putting their lives on the line every time they drive. But if these steps don't do the job, Utah lawmakers should feel no qualms about permanently depriving habitual drunken drivers of their cars and the right to drive.