New Drunk Driving Laws Take Effect This Month
State legislatures have been busy this year considering hundreds of drunk driving and underage drinking bills. So have we by actively working in 37 states to advance legislation that will enhance the safety of others. As of October 1, we can see that work pay off as the laws changed in four more states and legislation took effect to start saving lives. Here’s a quick rundown of the changes we can see.
Responsibility.org has long supported the minimum drinking age law and we have worked with our partners to ensure appropriate penalties are applied to people who purchase or drink alcohol under the age of 21, retailers who illegally sell alcohol to minors and for adults who illegally and knowingly furnish alcohol to minors.
We also think it’s important to create an environment where young people know they should call for help when someone they are with is in a life threatening situation due to alcohol overconsumption. To do that, laws can be passed so that, when a life is on the line, limited immunity is warranted for the person who calls for medical help, remains with the person in danger and works to save that person’s life. Such laws have been referred to as “911 Lifeline”, medical amnesty, immunity and Good Samaritan and 12 legislatures passed it this year.
In October, Good Samaritan laws take effect in Maine, Montana and North Carolina. By the end of the month, this will mean 32 states and D.C. will have this law in place. We are pleased to work with the Medical Amnesty Initiative and state legislators to advance this legislation.
Other laws taking effect in October involve drunk driving. In Montana, new drunk driving laws take effect on October 1 to enhance penalties for people who drive drunk with children under the age of 16 in the vehicle and to allow DUI sentences to be extended when circumstances warrant.
In Washington State, technical changes take effect on October 3 that will help track DUI offenders who are restricted from driving unless an ignition interlock is installed on their vehicles. Also on October 3 it will be a traffic infraction for a person to have an open container of marijuana in the main compartment of a vehicle in Washington State.
Of course, with these new laws in mind, passing a law is just the beginning of progress. Implementation has to be well coordinated among agencies and disciplines. Judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and the public need to understand the changes in state laws. The laws must be enforced by law enforcement, the courts, licensing agencies and probation/parole. This may seem like an obvious point, but, in practice, it is not. It takes an enormous amount of collaboration and persistence to ensure that offenders who do not comply with their sentences are detected and receive swift and certain consequences.
Laws work best when they are implemented with aggressive public education efforts. Most people who know the law, follow it. For others, they need to have the perception that they will be caught when violating laws. High-visibility enforcement coupled with effective implementation and widespread public awareness are ways to demonstrate this and are essential to making sure laws are effective.
We look forward to supporting Maine, Montana, North Carolina and Washington State as they implement their new laws.
Brandy Anderson Nannini is the Vice President of Government Relations and Traffic Safety.