New state DUI laws enforce accountability
Annelise Russell, The Oklahoma Daily
Beginning Tuesday, drunken students caught attempting to drive home from a late night on Campus Corner may not be able to start their cars for at least 18 months without proving they are sober.
The Erin Swezey Act, named after a 20-year-old student at Oklahoma State University killed by a drunken driver, puts in place stricter laws for all DUI offenders in Oklahoma.
“We want people to know that if they choose to drink too much and get behind the wheel, they will face greater consequences, “ state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said in a statement. “Hopefully that may discourage some people from driving drunk in the first place.”
The new laws, written by Jolley and Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, require those convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher use an ignition interlock device for 18 months, according to a press release. Blood alcohol levels of 0.08 or higher are considered legally drunk.
An interlock device requires the driver to breathe into it and measures the blood alcohol content before the individual can start the car. The test also requires drivers to randomly breathe into the device throughout the drive, designed to make it harder for drivers to have a sober friend take the test for him or her, according to the device website.
Those receiving a second DUI offense with a level of at least 0.08 must use the interlock for four years, and for five years for all additional offenses.
And offenders will have to foot the cost for the interlock device themselves.
Interlock device companies typically charge an installation fee between $50 and $200 and a monthly rental fee between $50 and $100, according to the Oklahoma Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence.
New law may add costs and inconvenience for offenders, Norman Police Capt. Tom Easley said.
Though he has not read the new statutes completely, he said he thinks people often have access to multiple cars that do not require the interlock device, which might be a way around the laws.
“I think it will work to a certain extent,” Easley said. “To another extent, it’s not so effective. We will have to wait and see.”
The new law does require all people using an interlock device have a sticker on their licenses to try to avoid the problem of multiple vehicles, according to a press release.
The device is credited with reducing offenses by an average of 67 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arizona has seen greater than average reductions in fatalities from the device.
“In Arizona, they’ve cut their fatalities by nearly half,” Nelson said in a press release. “We’ll never know whose life we’ve saved with this law, but it could be any one of us or our own children or grandchildren.”
Overall, 15 states now require the device for all first-time offenders, according to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving national office. Oklahoma is now the 13th state, including Texas, to require the device for first-time offenders with an alcohol level of 0.15 or more.
The new requirements honor Swezey, who was killed in an accident in Oklahoma City on April 4, 2009, according to the act’s website. The driver, who was driving in the wrong direction, had blood alcohol levels of 0.29, almost four times the legal limit.
“Erin’s life was cut tragically short by a senseless and 100-percent preventable act,” her father, Keith Swezey, said at a press conference. “If this new law is properly enforced, countless Oklahoma citizens will not have to suffer the tragedy that our family and so many others have gone through.”
AT A GLANCE
Highlights of the new law
• Interlock device for 18 months for first-time offenders with BAC of 0.15 or more
• Device for four years for second-time offenders with BAC of 0.08 or more
• Device for five years for more than two offenses with BAC of 0.08 or more
• All offenders must have a sticker on licenses to signify having an interlock device
Source: Oklahoma state Senate Bill 529