Michigan’s ‘Super-Drunk’ Laws Target First-Time Offenders
Those who drink excessively and get behind the wheel may face a sobering reality beginning Sunday.
New laws go into effect that double the jail sentences and license suspensions for first-time offenders who are convicted of having higher blood-alcohol levels while driving and expand the use of substance abuse treatment programs.
State officials say the so-called “super-drunk” legislation is designed to target those first-time offenders and cut down the 45,000 drunken driving arrests in Michigan annually.
“When you get super-drunk, it becomes exceptionally dangerous,” said state Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, a sponsor of the legislation.
The new law essentially creates a new class of blood-alcohol content of 0.17 percent or higher for serious first-time offenders; that’s slightly more than twice the minimum of 0.08 percent now required for a drunken driving conviction.
Those convicted of the higher blood-alcohol level will get an automatic one year driver’s license suspension and up to 180 days in jail – about twice the current levels.
They also face bigger fines of up to $700 and mandatory treatment for substance abuse.
Judge Harvey Hoffman of District 56A Court in Charlotte said substance abuse treatment for serious first-time offenders is critical to reducing the alcohol dependence and further offenses. Substance abuse treatment now is used more commonly for repeat offenders.
“The average person, if they blow a .20 and they’re up and functioning enough to operate a motor vehicle, it shows they have an elevated tolerance to alcohol,” said Hoffman, who has dealt with drunk drivers for 14 years as a judge.
“That’s pretty good proof you are dealing with someone who has a significant alcohol problem.”
The new law also is designed to expand use of breath alcohol ignition devices as a form of probation.
After the first 45 days of a license suspension, most first-time offenders could drive again as long as they install the device in their car; they must blow into the device, and the car won’t start if their breath has an alcohol level of 0.025 or higher.
Research shows use of the device is effective.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, recidivism among first-time and repeat offenders is reduced by 50 percent to 90 percent while the device is installed.
“The passage of the law shows that the Legislature is comfortable with the technology,” said Brent Morton, Eaton County assistant prosecutor. “That will help the roads be a little safer.”
While the alcohol ignition technology has been used for a couple of decades, Hoffman said he believed it will be more effective as probation agents play a greater oversight role in making sure restricted drivers use the device correctly.
“A lot of them keep driving without the (devices) and without licenses, and what have done is create an unlicensed, underinsured, untreated underclass of alcoholic drivers,” Hoffman said.
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