DOVER, Del. — Gov. Jack Markell and other state officials are touting a bill aimed at cracking down on repeat inebriated drivers, but Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the measure does not go far enough.
The bill revises prison sentences and allows for 24-hour monitoring and counseling in return for reduced time for people convicted of multiple DUI offenses, starting with the third guilty verdict.
It also clarifies that ignition interlock devices are required for all offenders whose blood alcohol concentration measures .15 or more, roughly double the .08 threshold for most drunken-driving arrests.
But MADD and other advocates argue that Delaware should require ignition locks for all DUI offenders, as more than a dozen other states do.
“We’re not happy with it because it’s not addressing the first offenders, and that’s where the problem is,” Jack Dalton, a lobbyist for National Interlock Systems, said Tuesday after Markell, Attorney General Beau Biden and state lawmakers held a news conference highlighting the bill, which will be considered in committee Wednesday.
In a letter to Rep. John Mitchell, chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, MADD state Legislative Affairs Manager Frank Harris said requiring interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers would reduce the number of repeat offenders.
“The most conservative study estimates a first-time convicted DUI offender has driven drunk 87 times prior to being arrested,” Harris wrote. “MADD strongly supports requiring interlocks for convicted drunk drivers because 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive without a license.”
While reducing the criminal sentences, the bill increases the current six-month mandatory prison time for people convicted of five or more DUIs by between one and two years, depending on the number of offenses. It allows for half of an offender’s felony sentence to be suspended if he or she participates in a treatment and 90-day abstinence program.
“I understand that people make mistakes … but if you’re getting a third, fourth, fifth, sixth DUI, you have a serious problem,” said Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, chief House sponsor of the bill.
Senate sponsor Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, said people with multiple convictions are alcoholics who need treatment.
“If we can keep them sober for 90 days, we really think we have a good shot in helping them turn their lives around,” Blevins said.
Under current law, people convicted of three or more DUI offenses already spend at least 90 days in jail, a period of implied abstinence that apparently is not adequately addressing the problem of repeat offenders.
“It’s not perfect,” Deputy Attorney General Sean Lugg, a chief architect of the new bill, said of the current system.