In response to "State's Approach To DWIs Need to Expand" editorial in the Post Journal, January 24, 2014, as the Chautauqua County Drinking Driver Program Director, I am in full agreement that more needs to be done than just increasing the monetary amount of fines and more restrictions on license restoration for those convicted of DWIs.
New York State has made some changes in the last couple of years making it harder for repeat offenders to get their license back, but it is not enough. The Department of Motor Vehicles is now looking at the number of arrests in a person's lifetime, not just the last 10 years as was done previously. If a person has three or more arrests in 25 years or five or more in their lifetime, they must reapply through the Driver Improvement Unit to have their case reviewed. They may or may not get their license returned. Prior to this, drivers could wait out their suspension or revocation time period and more than likely have their driving privileges restored.
New York does offer an educational component for those arrested for alcohol driving offenses. The unfortunate factor is that it is rarely mandated for these drivers as it is in some states. The Drinking Driver Program (DDP) has been in existence for 35 years. This is for the most part, a voluntary program for those convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI). It allows the motorist to obtain a Conditional License which permits them to basically drive for work purposes, educational purposes and a three hour time period for personal needs. The requirement for this is that they must attend a 16 hour educational program.
Currently the only drivers who are mandated to attend DDP are done so as a result of a plea bargain in court to get a lesser charge. Someone may have a blood alcohol level that would place them in the DWI category, a misdemeanor, and plea bargain it to a DWAI, a traffic infraction, if they take the Drinking Driver Program. These people gain the education and benefits of the program, but these people are the only ones who have to attend the program. Others who attend the program do so by their own choice. ,
Punishment levied without education about the offense does not usually produce the desired results for any wrongdoing. People need to understand the effects of their actions and the impact it can have on others. If New York and /or magistrates would mandate the Drinking Driver Program for all motorists that are convicted of any alcohol offense, more people would begin to understand the power of alcohol and that just "one or two" drinks can have an effect on a person's judgment and driving ability.
Attendees of the DDP state at the end of the program how beneficial it is and wish that they had the information earlier. Not many people spend a great deal of time on a topic until something in their life causes them to be interested in it. The effects of alcohol and other drugs on driving are no different. The Drinking Driver Program can help educate people about alcohol and hopefully prevent the unnecessary loss of life for many innocent people. Those with the authority and power to mandate the Drinking Driver Program need to exercise this option and help to educate as many people as possible.
More information on the Drinking Driver Program can be obtained by calling 664-3608 or at www.casacweb.org. The DDP is operated by the Chautauqua Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Council.
Kathleen Stornes is the Chautauqua County Drinking Driver program director.