The Crime Of Drunk Driving

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The first drunk-driving laws made it an offense to drive while intoxicated or to drive under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. Starting in the 1950s, states began to pass per se laws, which made it an offense to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC that exceeds certain levels. When a suspect is arrested for drunk driving, he or she is asked to take a deep breath and blow into a machine (the Breathalyzer is one model) that measures the amount of alcohol in the breath and converts it into a measure of the amount of alcohol in the blood. Pursuant to implied consent laws, suspects who refuse to provide a deep-lung breath sample are penalized by loss of their driver's license and sometimes by other sanctions as well. The evolution of breath-testing equipment, including hand-held devices (like the In-toxilyzer), has greatly eased the identification and conviction of drunk drivers. Despite folklore to the contrary, it is extremely rare that suspects who ''fail'' the breath test obtain acquittals. Indeed, the conviction rate for drunk driving is well over 90 percent.

In most states, a first drunk-driving offense is a misdemeanor, and a second offense within a specified time period (up to ten years in some states) is a felony. In a few states, a first offense is treated as a traffic violation, a second offense a misdemeanor, and a third offense a felony. Punishments vary from state to state; however, the usual range of punishments includes forfeiture of a driver's license for up to 1 year, fines of 500 to 1,000 dollars, and incarceration up to 30 days. In the late 1980s, spurred by the anti-drunk driving citizens' groups and federal financial incentives, several states passed laws mandating at least forty-eight hours of incarceration for a first DWI offense and a longer time for a second or subsequent offense. Another penalty that has been gaining popularity is the automatic and immediate forfeiture of the driver's license at the police station when the suspect fails or refuses to take the breath test (administrativeperse law). In the early 1990s, and once again in response to federal pressure, states began lowering the prohibited BAC from 0.1 percent to 0.08 percent.

At least since the early 1970s, the criminal justice system's processing of drunk drivers has been linked to alcohol-treatment programs. In many jurisdictions, all drunk-driving offenders are routinely screened for ALCOHOLISM and alcohol abuse. Alcoholics and abusers may be diverted from prosecution to TREATMENT. More likely, however, the judge will require the offender to participate in treatment as a condition of probation or in order to obtain a provisional or regular driver's license. In some jurisdictions, the criminal-justice system is the largest source of clients flowing into alcohol-

treatment programs. Thus, enforcement of the drunk-driving laws is one of the major ways that alcohol abusers are brought into the alcohol-treatment matrix.

In addition to the standard alcohol treatments, the attack on drunk driving has produced one unique kind of treatment—the drinking-driver school, which several million people have passed through since the mid-1970s. States and localities that have such schools often require all drunk drivers to attend. New York's school consists of five two-hour sessions and two three-hour sessions. The classes provide information about such matters as the deterioration of driving skills at different BAC levels, the inability to counteract intoxication with coffee or cold showers, and criminal penalties for drunk driving. People taking these classes are also required to fill out the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) to determine whether they are alcohol abusers.

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