ARE LOUISIANA DRIVERS THE WORST IN THE UNITED STATES?
For the fourth year in a row,
Louisiana is number one. That’s
right! Once again, the Bayou State has
been named as the home of the worst drivers in America.
One of the major causes of such
ranking is Louisiana’s tolerance for drunk drivers. Louisiana has always been a
“free and easy” state when it comes to drinking and driving. Visitors are
dumbfounded when they see drive through Daiquiri shops across the state. And
the results shouldn’t be surprising. Fifty-three per cent of all serious
injuries and highway deaths involve a drunk driver. So why hasn’t there
been more outrage and should there tougher laws on the books?
Actually, Louisiana has some of
the toughest DWI laws in the country. For a third offence DWI there is no
discretion for judges. An offender with three convictions faces a
mandatory sentence of two years in jail. And get this – the party convicted is
supposed to have their car seized and sold out from under them. Have a
mortgage? Tough luck. Should have thought about that before you
went drinking and got behind the wheel.
In 1996, as insurance
commissioner, I wrote the current law. But have you ever known of a third
offender DWI having his or her car taken off the road and sold -- or the
offender actually serving two years jail time with no suspended sentence?
These are rare occurrences, unless someone else is killed in a collision with
the drunk driver.
The problem is one of
enforcement. Many judges and prosecutors ignore the law. Often the DWI
charge is reduced to careless and reckless driving. And compounding this
problem is that computer information systems in one parish are unable to
communicate with systems in another parish, so a prosecutor is not aware of
A driver in the Baton Rouge area
was recently charged with his 7th DWI. That’s seven DWI charges.
Where were the red flags at three, or four or five or six? How could a
guy like this slip through the cracks?
Many states have enacted new laws
that cut little slack for drunk drivers. In Virginia, accused drunk drivers who
fail breath tests when stopped by police will have their licenses suspended
immediately, even before they are tried in court. New Mexico requires an
“ignition interlock” for every convicted drunk driver, even on the first
offense. No exceptions.
In New York, tough new steps
have been taken to curb a major drunk driving problem. Drivers there who
have been convicted of being drunk while carrying passengers 15 years or
younger face up to four years in prison, even when there is no wreck
involved. And how’s this for a tough sanction: A Long Island, New York jury recently
convicted a drunk driver of murder for killing two people in a head-on
collision. The district attorney who brought the charges had been elected on a
“take no prisoners” approach to drunk drivers.
Was this too tough a penalty?
Not according to the mother of one of the female victims. She used no
euphemisms in describing the damage done. “As I crawled out of the car,
the only thing that was left of Kate was her head. This was murder and no
different from carrying a loaded gun around, pointing it at people and having a
few shots go off killing them.” The prosecutor made no bones about how
she will act in dealing with drunk driving deaths. ”We hope that his
verdict sends a message that if you drink and drive and kill somebody, you will
be prosecuted for murder.”
far too long, having a few drinks then driving home has been no big deal in
Louisiana. To many drivers, it is still a normal way of life. Hopefully,
much stiffer sentences handed down by tough Louisiana judges, who will enforce
the strong laws already on the books, will go a long way in reducing too many
pointless and unwarranted deaths.
I know some people are against drunk driving.
But you know, sometimes you’ve got no choice; those kids gotta get to
Jim Brown’s syndicated
column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on
websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing
updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear
Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00
am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com