Wednesday, January 4, 2006

A tougher new law for drunk drivers: Seize their cars

Drunk drivers behind the wheels of cars and trucks continue to be a nightmare on the nation's roads and highways, and sterner measures are justified to rid the public of these menaces.

A new tactic catching on in several states is to seize vehicles of drunk drivers, impound them for various periods, and in at least one county in Oregon, auction off the cars after multiple arrests.

Idaho should join this enlightened campaign to crack down on drivers who don't get the message through fines or jail terms.

Look at the statistics.

In 2004, according to the Idaho Transportation Department, 103 persons died as the result of auto collisions involving chemical impairment. Another 331 persons were seriously injured. The deaths resulting from impaired driving represented 40 percent of all highway fatalities.

The same summary shows that 10,135 persons were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in 2004, 8,674 of them by sheriffs and local police, the other 1,461 by Idaho State Police.

For a staggering perspective of what this means economically, the 103 deaths in DUI accidents led to $330 million in a variety of costs in lost productivity, insurance, medical, law enforcement and the like.

The public through its elected officials owes drunken drivers nothing. The sterner they're treated, the less likely they'll pose a threat on the roads.

Arizona is the latest to tighten the screws. Its new law requires autos to be impounded for 30 days for underage driving and drinking, driving with a revoked or suspended license, or extreme DUI. At least 2,300 vehicles are now impounded as the result of the law that took effect Nov. 1. At minimum, the hiatus from driving gives motorists time to think about their drinking.

Lincoln County, Ore., imposes even harsher measures. Cars can be auctioned off after the third DUI, and a DUI conviction in any state is counted.

Americans are crazy about their cars. If fines and the threat of jail time don't persuade drivers to observe sobriety laws, then loss of a cherished vehicle might create second thoughts when "one more for the road" is uttered.

State lawmakers are gathering this month with a full plate of problems requiring their best efforts and painful choices. Toughening laws to prevent drunk driving and bloody highway accidents is a solution with no partisan overtones.

What's at stake here is sparing Idaho families dread news of a loved one being killed on the road by a drunk who shouldn't have the right—or a car—to drive.

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