Monitech

Category: News

repeat-dui-offenders-arizona

A recent arrest in Arizona highlights one of the problems that states have with their DUI laws: creating  ones that keep repeat offenders off the road. In El Mirage a man was arrested for his fourth DUI, just five days after pleading guilty to his third.

Repeat drunk driving is a complex problem, partly because it’s not the whole problem. A study by the American Psychological Association noted that repeat drunk driving is part of a larger pattern which often includes other crimes and disorders. This condition – what psychiatrists called psychiatric comorbidity – is the reason that measure that punish drunk driving on its own don’t always work.

Ignition interlocks have a good record of reducing recidivism because they don’t work by punishing the offender, but by disabling the vehicle directly if the driver has been drinking. Many offenders, faced with this obstacle, re-evaluate their life choices and stop driving drunk.

Repeat Offenders Have Multiple Issues

There are persistent repeat offenders, and they must be dealt with differently, because they are very different people. The problems that lead to repeat drunk driving need to be addressed. In the study by doctors from Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, repeat DUI offenders were placed in a 2-week in-patient treatment program. The program addressed not only alcohol abuse and dependence but also depression, gambling disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, attention deficit disorder, and other conditions.

Then came the work: lengthy treatment and follow-up. The result was that within a year, only 2.6 percent of the group had been arrested for another DUI. Within 5 years, only 7.5 percent had.

The Role of Ignition Interlocks

Ignition interlocks play a vital role in preventing first DUI offenders from becoming repeat offenders.  Extensive research has shown that the devices save lives by keeping drunk drivers off the road. While they work on their own, they are even more effective when part of a sobriety court or other program that includes treatment for the issues that accompany drunk driving behavior. Only when all-offender ignition interlock laws are accompanied by thorough mental health treatment will we make headway with serious repeat DUI offenders.

second-degree-murder-dui

We know that drunk drivers cause deaths all the time – some 30,000 each year in this country. But is that murder? According to the law books in many states, it is – of a sort. A recent case in Winston-Salem shows that a murder charge is a definite possibility if you kill someone while driving drunk in North Carolina.

Last year, according to news reports, Roberto Jose Lemus Martinez was driving drunk the wrong way on U.S. 52. Police reports say he crashed his SUV into a Camry with three people in it. Jean Lawrence High, 80, was killed in the crash. Recently Martinez was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder for his role in High’s death.

Second-Degree Murder: Yes, It’s Intentional

First-degree murder is a charge we all know well from Law & Order: intentional, premeditated, with malice aforethought. The grand jury, however, is not saying that this crime was premeditated.

Second-degree murder is intentional, though, and with malice aforethought. One might wonder why killing someone while driving drunk would be considered an intentional crime. The offender doesn’t start out with the intention of killing another person. But the fact is, impaired driving is a conscious decision, one that disregards the well-known dangers to others on the road. You can’t get behind the wheel while drunk and claim that you don’t intend to do others harm – it’s obvious to everyone that drunk driving ends up doing harm every day. The legal definition of “malice” includes an utter disregard for another’s welfare.

Different states’ laws use different language – some call it “extreme  indifference.” California calls it “implied malice.”

In North Carolina it’s an act “done in such a reckless and wanton manner as to manifest a mind utterly without regard for human life and social duty.”

We can’t think of a better description of drunk driving that results in death. As long as there are those who are without regard for human life and social duty, some drunk drivers will be facing a charge of second-degree murder.

alcohol-bad-judgment

It started when Vicki Susan Poitinger hit a car with her Camaro and kept driving. That was bad decision number 2 in a string of bad decisions. What was number 1? It will be obvious.

She threw a can of Mikes Harder Lemonade (8 percent alcohol by volume) into a neighbor’s yard and asked the neighbors to hide the can. Bad decision number 3.

When the neighbors refused to hide the can (good decision), Poitinger hid it under the neighbor’s porch. You guessed it – bad decision number 4.

It keeps going, A police officer gave her a breathalyzer and she put her mouth on it but didn’t blow. BD5.

She refused a breathalyzer test at the jail. Different attorneys might have different ideas on this point, so we’ll give it a pass. At any rate, the point is already made.

Bad decision number 1, of course, was drinking and driving. It’s the decision that set the other bad decisions in motion. And judging by the offender’s claim that she had previous DWI convictions, it’s one that she’s made before.

When Alcohol Takes the Wheel

Some people just seem to be good at making bad decisions. Alcohol, it must be said, makes people better at it, by removing inhibitions and making people care less about the consequences of what they do.

What will be the consequences? Multiple DWI offenders in North Carolina are required to use an ignition interlock, as are all people arrested for drunk driving who refuse a breath test. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The interlock will not improve a person’s judgement, alas.No technology exists to do that. The device will, however, prevent a person from acting on the foolish desire to drink and drive, by incapacitating the starter motor while there is alcohol on the offender’s breath.

And while that won’t change a personality, it will protect society from one drunk driver and possibly aid in that person’s recovery, if she wishes to pursue that.

North Carolina’s ignition interlock law, then, was a good decision, one that the state’s residents benefit from each day. A stronger one – one that applied to all offenders and not just repeat drunk drivers – would be a better one. Let’s hope the state doesn’t put off that decision much longer.

backing-into-a-police-car

You normally would not consider backing into a police car as beneficial to you or society at large. Especially if the police officer whose car it is watches you do it. But it was a fairly good outcome for one man in Morganton, NC.

To understand why, you need to understand the situation. Not long after midnight a while back a member of the Morganton Department of Public Safety (that means she’s a cop) hunted down a gray Honda that had been driving erratically and found it stopped in the middle of the road.

The driver, one Rodney Allen Carter, had the radio on loud. When Officer Kania approached, he began doing weird things: turning the headlights off and on, mumbling, staring at the window buttons. The odor of alcohol was present.

The officer noted that the car wasn’t in park – the driver just had his foot on the brake. When asked to put it in park, he reversed it instead and hit the police car.

Carter tested at .25, more than three times the legal limit for intoxication. That meant he was not in any condition to drive a car.

It Could Have Been Worse

In fact, the driver was a menace who could have easily killed himself or someone else, judging by the fact that he couldn’t even operate a gearshift properly. Backing into the police car was good because it ended the incident with no injury.

What if the officer had been behind the car? What if, instead of backing into the car, he had sped forward and hit someone?

As it was, no one was hurt. The toll of North Carolina alcohol-related road deaths – currently 389 per year or about 28 percent of all road deaths – did not change as a result of anything going on in Morganton.

We all know that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Sometimes the bad is the enemy of the truly disastrous. So we welcome a DWI crash that might have prevented a DWI death. Though a better idea would be no DWIs at all.

wedding-day-dui

It’s up there with the worst wedding memories ever, probably. A woman in Marana, Arizona caused a three-car crash not long ago. She was arrested and tested for impairment. That in itself wouldn’t be big news, even in Arizona, which is fairly sane in the drunk driving world. But the woman was wearing a wedding dress, and was on her way to her wedding when the crash occurred.

There could have been all kinds of reasons for a wedding day DUI. She might have been drinking that day. Or she might have had a very big celebration the previous night and was still impaired.

But why did she get behind the wheel? Perhaps she was in such a good mood that she didn’t think anything bad could happen.

No Day, However Special, Is OK to Drive Drunk

In some ways, every DUI incident is a result of this kind of magical thinking. We’ve had too many drinks, and decide to drive. We won’t crash, because we can handle it. We’re not that drunk. We know the roads. We’ll be careful. Arrests and crashes happen on the news, not to me.

Magical thinking is comforting, but it doesn’t work. Of the 30,000 or so fatal alcohol-related crashes that occur each year, and the many more alcohol-related crashes that don’t result in death, all of them involved drivers who thought they were okay to drive. Even if they knew they were drunk, they thought they’d find their way home.

We weren’t told if the driver in this case made it to the church. If she did, then her wedding anniversary will also be the anniversary of her DUI. Not one for the memory book, perhaps.

phoenix-self-driving-cars

If you carpool, you place your trust in whoever is driving that day. Chances are you’ll get where you’re going, but you never know when the person whose turn it is to drive will show up tired, preoccupied – or drunk.

Self-driving cars will fix that. The ones Waymo are working on are already plying the roads of Phoenix. More important, the company says it will be ready to start a commercial service next year, offering self-driving vehicles for commuting and running errands.

Recently Waymo has been publicizing its 360° experience, which gives passengers a panoramic view of the road around the vehicle. The purpose of the feature is to make riders comfortable with the idea of being ferried around by a van with no driver – something that still feels creepy to most people.

But the more interesting bit of news is the fact that the company is about to put the autonomous vehicles in general service.

An End to Drunk Driving?

There’s little doubt that a self-driving vehicle is superior to a human. Even if the cars aren’t perfect – and no technology is at first – they will definitely be more reliable than humans at the task of driving. They devote 100 percent of their attention to the road, are never tired or drunk, and don’t have any wrong ideas about the rules of the road. They never get angry or impulsive.

Whether humans will accept autonomous cars is another story. Crashes with self-driving cars get a lot of press. Once a fatality occurs – and it will happen – the real controversy will begin. Proponents will point to statistics – the number of fatalities will be much lower in percentage terms – but statistics don’t always win the battle.

Take It Slow

Until Waymo’s self-driving cars are proven safe and put in service, we have other means of keeping drivers, passengers and pedestrians from harm. We have drunk driving laws, BAC limits, and ignition interlocks to prevent people from starting their vehicles when they have been drinking.

Perhaps they won’t be needed one day. That’s fine. But for now, let’s keep at the fight against drunk driving. The time when all cars are autonomous is a long way off. In the meantime, it’s up to plain old, low-tech humans to enforce ignition interlock laws and keep the roads safe.

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