A new West Virginia law that makes some DUI offenses felonies and allows harsher penalties for other offenses could reduce recidivism and DUI accidents.
Although drunk driving and associated accidents are on the decline, this reckless behavior still takes a huge toll in West Virginia. In 2013 alone, 90 people lost their lives in fatal accidents involving impaired drivers. Repeat offenders may contribute significantly to this problem; according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, these offenders cause about one-third of DUI accidents. Fortunately, a new law that enacts harsher punishments for serious DUI offenses could help reduce these accidents.
According to The State Journal, the law increases the penalties that people face after being convicted of three or more DUI offenses. It also allows some offenses to be prosecuted as felonies. The legislation makes the following changes:
- Drunk driving accidents that result in death are automatically classified as felonies.
- Intoxicated drivers who are convicted in these accidents face potentially longer prison sentences. The minimum sentence has increased from two to three years, while the maximum has increased from 10 to 15 years.
- Drunk driving accidents that cause serious injuries can be prosecuted as felonies.
These enhanced sanctions may help deter repeat offenders from continuing their reckless behaviors. The increased prison sentences may also keep convicted offenders off the road for longer periods of time.
Addressing DUI recidivism
These changes may offer significant safety benefits. According to MADD, recidivism on the part of DUI offenders is a widespread problem. Nationally, over 2 million drivers have accumulated at least three drunk driving convictions. Additionally, many of these drivers are not deterred by license suspension alone. Up to three-quarters continue to drive, potentially while intoxicated, even while their licenses are suspended.
Ignition interlock devices are one measure that is proven to address recidivism. The use of these devices can reduce repeat offenses up to 67 percent, according to MADD. West Virginia has already enacted laws that require drivers to install the devices after second and subsequent convictions. The addition of stronger penalties to the existing ignition interlock laws could help reduce recidivism even further.
Remedies after accidents
Unfortunately, these legislative changes will not prevent every drunk driving accident. More than half of accidents and deaths can be attributed to people who lack prior DUI convictions, according to MADD. Therefore, drunk driving crashes may still affect hundreds of people in West Virginia this year.
The victims of these accidents may be entitled to compensation for their injuries, suffering and other losses. Similarly, people who have lost loved ones in drunk driving accidents may have legal recourse. All of these victims should consider speaking to the drunk driving accident attorneys at Johnstone & Gabhart to better understand their rights and options.