From the Office of State Senator Kevin Witkos
Now that the holidays have come and gone, we turn our attention to one of the largest celebrations of the year. New Year’s Eve is almost here already, and it is quite hard to believe that we will be entering the year 2012. Some of us enjoy attending festive parties, while others enjoy simply watching the crystal ball drop in Times Square at midnight on television. Many times a party can involve alcohol, whether it is beer, wine or something else. There is no excuse to combine drinking and driving. It is so simple to make arrangements to spend the night after a party or have a friend act as the designated driver to make sure everyone gets home. However you decide to celebrate the New Year, make sure you do it safely.
Ultimately, it is important to understand the laws against driving under the influence (DUI). Our state is one of many that has an Implied Consent Law stating that drivers give their consent to submit to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test simply by operating a vehicle. Suspected drivers can be stopped by police or sobriety checkpoints may be set up. You may have read about these checkpoints in your local newspaper because the state requires the schedule to be published in the media at least three days prior to the event. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles website, those who are arrested for drunk driving can expect to see a standard process. First, the driver is detained by police and read their rights. The car is then towed at the driver’s expense, and the driver is taken by police cruiser to the station. If the BAC test registers at .08 or above, the driver will be charged with driving under the influence until they get bailed out.
The penalties for drunk driving can be severe. Under our state’s criminal law, a first offense can result in a fine between $500 and $1000, up to six months in jail and license suspension for one year. Second and third offenses increase fines and jail time. In addition to these penalties, the DMV can impose administrative sanctions as well. If the BAC test registers between .08 and .16, the driver can expect to have their license suspended for 90 days for the first offense. If it registers above .16, the driver’s license will be suspended for 120 days. For those under the age of 21, the legal limit is .02. There is zero tolerance for underage drunk driving, and the penalties are stiff. If a driver refuses to take a blood, breath or urine alcohol test, they can expect to have their license suspended for an even longer period of time. However, some may also be eligible for the Alcohol Education Program (AEP) which requires attendance of between 10 and 15 courses. Upon successful completion, the DUI charge would be dismissed.
An excellent resource in the campaign against drunk driving is an organization called Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. The group’s mission is “to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.” Throughout the nation, MADD advocates for legislation that could help eliminate drunk driving. During the last legislative session, a new law was enacted that will require convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock, a device that requires the driver to pass a breathalyzer test before being able to start their vehicle. For more information on this issue, please visit the MADD website at www.madd.org.
As a police officer, I know all too well the perils involved with drinking and driving. When it is all said and done, a DUI conviction can cost thousands of dollars. The costs include towing the vehicle, posting bail, court fees, attorney fees, alcohol education clases, fines and increased insurance premiums. This cost can increase substantially if damage to vehicles or property and medical bills are included. It takes only one driver to ruin what should be a joyous time of year. If you attend a party and consider drinking and driving, don’t do it. Have a friend drive you home to be sure that your celebration will be a success. From my family to yours, have a safe and happy New Year!