The consequences repeat drunk drivers face in Pennsylvania

Deaths from drunk drivers are occurring in Pennsylvania at an alarming rate. Yet, in spite of the hard facts provided by PennDOT and AAA, lawmakers at the state capital do not seem to be in a rush to make criminal penalties harsher.

Meanwhile, impaired drivers with past criminal records for DUI remain on the road.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation conducted multiple studies that reveal at least 40 percent of drunk driving crashes in Pennsylvania and neighboring New Jersey and Delaware involve repeat offenders.

Yet, repeat drunk driving is not a felony in Pennsylvania. Any efforts to change that at the legislative level face an unlikely uphill battle. A serious public health policy seems to be a low priority for Pennsylvania legislators.

Currently, 13 related bills to toughen drunk driving laws sit idle in the state legislature. Passing any one of the languishing pieces of legislation into law would call for stricter sentences for repeat DUI offenders.

No one has voted for the measures. No one has voted against them. Simply because no one has had the opportunity to vote.

While an ignition interlock bill became law, installing the device is simply not enough. More needs to be done to deter repeat drunk drivers. Besides, an interlock device will only stop someone from driving that particular car.

Drunk driving is not the only problem plaguing the state. Drugged driving is on the rise. PennDOT reports that more than 8,000 drivers have been killed or injured since 2010 because of drugged drivers. An astonishing12,000 have suffered injury or death by a driver under the influence of both alcohol and drugs.

Catching them presents challenges because officers are not trained in detecting impairment due to painkiller or illegal stimulant use. Suspects need to undergo blood tests, a process that requires more time and money.

Police departments lack the resources. Legislators lack the will. It is a combination as dangerous as drinking and driving.

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