Ohio has some of the most lax laws in the land when it comes to drivers convicted of driving under the influence. That all could change now.
The Ohio Legislature is considering a bill that would toughen drunk driving laws following Jess R. Brown's 16 1/2 year prison sentence for his 19th and 20th DUI convictions.
A recent review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed Ohio was one of just 11 states that lagged behind in following the administration's guidelines for mandatory license suspensions, jail time, treatment programs and ignition interlock devices or vehicle immobilization. Drunk driving does not become a felony in Ohio until a fourth offense within six years or a sixth within 20 years.
But it was not until several high-profile cases of repeat drunk drivers caught legislators' and the public's attention that lawmakers have made any move to act. Lawmakers promising a "get tough" approach this late in the game smacks of grandstanding. Stories of repeat DUI offenders in Ohio are, unfortunately, nothing new and should have been dealt with long ago. Politicians trying to hang their hats on this issue should not be given a free pass for failing to act sooner.
However, the tougher standards clearly are needed. The new bill, which will likely undergo a variety of changes as it works its way through the Statehouse, initially calls for sensible measures, including: Impounding for a year all vehicles registered to a drunk driver, and requiring anyone convicted of a DUI, for the first year following their year-long license suspension, secure an interlock device, which prevents the car from starting until a driver blows into it and if alcohol is detected, the vehicle won't start.
But, as the bill goes through the process, many other provisions could be tacked on. One proposal would allow police to give a breath test to anyone they have stopped that has been convicted of a DUI even if the driver exhibits no signs of being under the influence of alcohol.
Lawmakers must find the proper balance between protecting Ohio drivers, which they have been failing to do for sometime, and circumventing basic rights, such as probable cause.