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Letter: Drunk drivers and apathy

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By Bill Norton

Which is worse, habitual drunken drivers who end up killing or apathetic citizens who do nothing effective to stop it?

Face the facts:

• Habitual drunken drivers have killed and continue to kill. See Optic headlines.

• State police are effective in arresting them — over and over again. Kudos. Other law enforcement agencies vary in their effectiveness.

• The “judicial system” has obviously failed to prevent repeat offenses; witness the recent arrest of a seven-time DWI offender.

• Citizens claim to be outraged. See Optic editorials and blogs, etc.

• Nothing much changes. DWI arrests continue; deaths tragically continue; wailing and fist-shaking continues; drinking and driving continues. Apathy reigns supreme.

Effective steps can be taken.

Identify what parts of the “judicial system” need fixing, then start doing it. Has the DA a zero-tolerance policy and is it enforced? Are judges being lax, if so, which ones? Why isn’t the mandatory ignition-interlock law enforced? (It can’t be, for these drunk drivers are being re-convicted!) Are these repeat criminals actually serving jail time between their offenses (at least after the first one)? You probably have better ideas, but here are some of mine.

Publicize public records — how many DWI arrests are made by the various agencies. Compare this to how many convictions are handed down (the judges make a monthly report to the city, don’t they)?

Include a mandatory six- or 12-month suspended sentence that goes into effect if the convict is caught driving without the required interlock device.

Extend the period an interlock device must be used after sentencing. Require the convicts’ driver’s license to carry an “interlock required” condition.

Require higher personal injury/medical limits on vehicle insurance of those convicted of DWI.

Consider a Writ of Mandamus against judges not enforcing the interlock law. Vote out judges not enforcing drunken driving laws.

Oh, how naive! Habitual drunken drivers will merely drive without a license or in spite of a suspended license. True, these criminals also tend to drive unlicensed or currently unregistered vehicles, and fail to carry required insurance. So consider getting tough, as California has! There, an unlicensed driver and/or the owner of an unlicensed (or unregistered) car found upon the road forfeits the vehicle.

Note that it is not merely impounded; once the offense is proven in court, it is sold at auction with the proceeds going to the county. The scofflaw merely gains an empty parking space. It took a few months, but California drivers have gotten the message.

The choice: apathy (and more deaths) or tough action. The choice is yours. Until enough citizens get involved, act to strengthen laws, and hold their elected officials (and the elected officials’ appointees) responsible, the current outrageous deadly situation will continue.

As Hillel the Elder said some two millennia ago, “Not to decide is to decide.”

My thanks to the many Optic bloggers opining on the subject of drunken drivers. Their outrage, responses, and constructive criticism both motivated and influenced me to write this letter to the editor.

Bill Norton

Las Vegas

Boron, Calif.