State Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, won't let go of her crusade to make life difficult for drunken drivers.
That's a good thing.
Walker, whose own sister was tragically killed by a drunken driver more than 30 years ago, is proposing a law that would require two-time offenders to pay for and install devices in their cars that detect alcohol on the breath. If the device gets a positive reading, the car won't start.
This isn't a perfect solution to the menace that killed 72 people in Utah in 2004. Repeat drunken drivers can be a determined lot. They may find ways to get around the device, even if that means borrowing a car from someone else. But such a law would be another tool in the state's arsenal against people who seem incapable of stopping themselves from becoming a deadly risk on the highways. And it would keep some people off the roads. The advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving references a few studies on its Web site that indicate such devices have had an effect elsewhere.
Repeat offenders could benefit most from treatment programs that help them with their dependencies and their self-destructive behavior habits. To that end, a law passed two years ago, allowing courts to dismiss first-time DUI charges if the offender completes a treatment program, may be more effective. That law will sunset in 2006 unless lawmakers vote to extend it. Early indications are that the promise of a dismissal is an incentive to participate in the program, which should be enough to garner at least a two-year extension of the law.
That may be counter-intuitive to people who do not like the thought of dismissing charges in such a disturbing crime, but the ultimate goal must be to prevent offenders from ever drinking and driving again. We urge lawmakers to find effective ways to track whether people whose charges are dismissed under this law ever show up in court again.
For several years now, aided by this newspaper's concerted effort to shed light on the problem, state lawmakers have found ways to enact tough new laws against drunken drivers. Most recently, a law went into effect that lowers to zero the allowable alcohol level any previously convicted drunken driver has in his or her blood.
Each such law is an important tool against people who insist on drinking and driving. None, however, is a guarantee that such behavior will cease completely.
Drunken driving is a random killer. It strikes when people least expect it, and its victims are innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For too many years, the official culture simply tolerated such behavior, punishing it severely only when the worst had happened.
Thankfully, those days are over. In Utah and elsewhere, drunken drivers are beginning to face more severe restrictions. But as people like Walker can attest, the punishment that victims and their relatives face is both severe and, in too many cases, never-ending.