One hundred and sixty people died last year in West Virginia in crashes involving drunk drivers.
That’s 18 more than died from such incidents the previous year. Yet it was only a year ago that lawmakers reformed the state’s drunken driving statute, giving it stronger penalties that included jail time for those with BAC levels of 0.15 or higher and mandatory use of Interlocks for those who fall into that category.
An Interlock is a special device placed in a car that keeps a motorist from starting an engine if alcohol is detected in his or her breath.
The devices, under the revised law, are also part of a legal option for first-time DUI offenders who would rather have their licenses suspended for 15 days instead of the standard 30.
It’s a positive change, but it may not be enough. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers want to see the law made even stricter because they’re noticing more and more low BAC offenders on West Virginia roads, despite the new laws.
‘‘Our numbers are continuing to climb in terms of overall drunken driving,’’ Donna Hawkins told lawmakers at last week interim meetings. Hawkins is the state director for MADD.
‘‘West Virginia was one of the few states in which our death rate by drunk driving increased last year,’’ she said. ‘‘That tells me we’re not reaching the people we need to reach. We need to not only mandate Interlocks for all offenders, but we need to strengthen our safety and treatment program to change our behavior patterns for drunken drivers.’’
Lawmakers must listen to MADD. This group has done its homework. If MADD is asking Charleston to put more teeth into the statute by making Interlocks mandatory for all DUI offenders, then Charleston should do it.
Other states that have done so are showing significant decreases in DUI fatalities, MADD reports.
Every life in West Virginia is a valuable one. We must make every effort to save more.