By LawReader Senior Editor Stan Billingsley

National Transportation Safety Board officials urged Kentucky lawmakers this week to adopt new laws to curb drivers with high blood-alcohol levels and those who are repeat drinking-and-driving offenders.

We certainly believe that drunk drivers are a problem, but there are legitimate questions as to whether the Federal Government is justified in seeking these particular changes in our law.

The NTSB calls for new laws in four basic areas:

1. Revoking licenses immediately upon arrest for DUI;

Question:  Isn’t this punishment before trial?  Sounds a lot like Sharia law to us.

2. Implementing programs to identify individuals who drive on a suspended or revoked license;

Question:  Isn’t this already being done?  The legislature has already made it a crime to drive on a suspended license.  Why is this on the NTSB list?

3. Implementing vehicle sanctions such as vehicle impoundment and forfeiture;

Question:  Does this not punish the entire family, and what compensation would be provided to parties who are later found to not having been DUI?  What keeps the driver from getting another car?   

4. Requiring DUI offenders to maintain a zero blood-alcohol content level.

Question:  Does this mean they can’t drink a beer while sitting in their house watching a basketball game?  

     We question the necessity of these recommendations, and we question the factual basis for the statistics used by the NTSB regarding the mixture of alcohol and fatalities.

Our legislature has looked at immediate revocation of driver’s license upon arrest. So far they have refused to punish people who have not been convicted of DUI.  We suggest that driver’s charged with DUI are not guilty until proven guilty.  Anyone who practices DUI law is aware of many cases in which the police officer is not able to factually support the DUI arrest.  Some driver’s are later found not to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and their cases are dismissed.  The trial of such drivers might take weeks or months, before the court could restore a license to a driver who had been improperly charged.   This proposal for immediate loss of driving privileges makes the police officer the judge and jury.  The NTSB and other Temperance advocates are callling for the repeal of our constituional rights on the conclusion of an arresting officer that somehow alcohol was involved.  We should understand that all driver’s arrested for DUI are immediately taken to jail, and are not released until they are sober, or some responsible person picks them up after posting a bond.

The reality of  the existence of unfounded  charges also influences the fairness of vehicle impoundment and forfeiture.   Will the NTSB compensate a family for the taking of their vehicle when the driver is later found not to have been guilty of DUI?   Again this is a suggestion for punishment before guilt is established.  

We note that in the statistics cited by the NTSB there is an asterisk on their web site concerning Kentucky DUI statistics in fatal wrecks.  Kentucky allows a police officer to unilaterally create a alcohol statistic by merely noting that alcohol was” involved”.  If the officer finds one empty beer can in the back seat of a car, they will likely report a wreck as having had  being “alcohol related”.  This creates higher claims of impaired driving than actually exists. The statistics compiled by Kentucky does not provide proof that the alcohol evidence was in anyway related to impaired driving.  It is possible under the statistic collection protocol used in Kentucky for a passenger to have been under the influence and the designated driver might have been completely sober, but the statistic would imply the wreck and fatality was “alcohol related”.  Before we determine the size of the problem, we are entitled to correct statistics and the NTSB’s own web site distinquishes Kentucky statistics.

The number of all highway fatalities are down substantially.  We should be careful in balancing the regulation of driver’s with constitutional rights.   If every arrest was supported by the facts, as determined by a court of law, then there would be no need for our concern, but in fact some DUI arrests are totally unsupported by the facts. 

Until Kentucky can come up with a scientifically supported basis to statistically identify the actual number of wrecks caused by impaired driving, the efforts to toughen the laws and to start punishing people before their trial is merely a campaign more akin to fundamentalist Sharia Like Law than American Law.

Let’s be honest, there is strong Temperance movement in the U.S. seeking to ban use of all alcohol.  This didn’t work in the 1930′s and it is not likely to work now.  Drunk driver’s should be punished severely, but only after they are found guilty.  Our Legislature has done a good job in writing really tough DUI laws.   The focus should be on repeat offenders, and a distinction should be made between the first offender (most never offend again ever!) and real repeat offenders.

Our system is working far better than alarmists and Temperance proponents claim.

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