Lost in the discussion of prescription pain pill misuse and heroin overdose deaths these days is the still-alarmingly high number of people being killed by drunk drivers.
Last year alone, 40 percent of traffic-related deaths in Ohio involved an impaired driver.
It may take time to bring that number down, but a new law which went into effect earlier this month and is supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving should help.
“Annie’s Law” increases certain penalties for first-time offenders of the state’s operating a motor vehicle under the influence law, and should reduce OVI-related deaths.
Under it, the mandatory minimum license suspension is 12 months instead of six. Judges have the option of ordering ignition interlock devices — miniature Breathalyzers — that prevent a car from starting if a driver’s blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
Offenders whose vehicles are equipped with the interlock systems are eligible to have their license suspension reduced by 50 percent if they have no violations.
The law also allows a judge to review 10 years worth of driving records rather than six when sentencing an offender.
Annie’s Law was named after Annie Rooney, 36, of Chillicothe, who was hit and killed by a five-time repeat drunk driver in Ross County in 2013.
MADD was among the groups which encouraged lawmakers to pass the bill, which was signed by Gov. John Kasich earlier this year.
Studies show 50 to 75 percent of drunk-driving offenders continue driving even if under a license suspension. Occupational driving privileges are sometimes granted to OVI offenders, but the privileges tend to be abused and are hard to police.
Interlock devices, meanwhile, have proven to be very effective in reducing OVI deaths in states where they are used. The states with the strongest interlock laws have seen the greatest results.
For example, West Virginia has seen a reduction of 50 percent in drunk-driving deaths and New Mexico 38 percent. Those states, however, require all drunk-driving offenders to use ignition interlock systems.
Ohio’s version isn’t that strict, but is still a step in the right direction. Municipal court judges must make great use of the new tool whenever possible, knowing that each time they do can potentially save a life.
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