Editorial: Drunk driving laws present tough challenge
Published 12:00 am Friday, February 22, 2002
Tribune staff editorial
The debate over how to punish repeat drunk drivers is a difficult one, as the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission is finding out.
Friday, February 22, 2002
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The debate over how to punish repeat drunk drivers is a difficult one, as the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission is finding out. The group, which last year recommended three-year minimum prison terms for fourth-time offenders, now has changed its tune to a more lenient proposal.
The commission has recommended a three-year stayed prison sentence for most fourth-time drunk drivers, who instead would serve up to six months in jail and five years on probation. Most subsequent offenders would go to prison for at least a four-year term.
Why did the commission change its stance? After all, still penalties appear a good way, maybe the only way, to drive the message home that repeat DWIs will not be tolerated.
The problem is that if the stricter law were applied, enough Minnesotans would be sent to prison each year to fill Stillwater prison. Locking all those people away translates into millions of dollars in costs.
Unfortunately, such practical concerns must be heavily weighed. Sending all those people to prison just isn’t feasible. Yet, letting repeat drunk drivers off the hook is just as unpalatable.
There is no easy solution, but perhaps more prevention should be substituted for more cure. The best way to prevent drunk driving may be for people to put the pressure on each other to behave responsibly. It starts with taking drunk driving seriously and continues with real action to stop somebody else from getting behind the wheel. Refusal to tolerate drunk drivers must be more a part of our social culture, even if it can’t be part of our legal code.