In Salem today the Senate Judiciary Committee sent to the full Senate an important bill that could change the way Oregon drunk driving cases are decided. According to The Oregonian the legislation “would no longer require everyone on diversion for drunken or drugged driving to install… interlock devices, which force drivers to blow into a breathalyzer that shows they haven’t been drinking before their car will start.” According to the newspaper “about 10,000 people a year are placed on diversion for the first-time offenses of driving while intoxicated, and about 70 percent never commit another offense.”
At issue are that recidivism rate and a debate about how closely practice here in Oregon should resemble that in other states.
Proponents of the bill note that for many people DUII is a one-time offense. “My experience says that the vast majority of the individuals are in the system once and only once,” the paper quotes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Floyd Prozanski saying. The counter-argument, spearheaded by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is that “many offenders repeatedly drive drunk before they’re caught for the first time” the newspaper reports. It cites MADD’s legislative director, Frank Harris, accusing the legislature of “playing some risky business with public safety.”
Then there is the question of how Oregon measures up compared to other states. According to the newspaper, though interlock devices are a common requirement for people across the country seeking to reclaim driving privileges following a drunk driving conviction. Yet only one other state, Connecticut, requires people in diversion programs to use them. Depending on one’s point of view this either indicates that our state is out of step with national ‘best practices,’ or that Oregon stands nearly alone in taking first-time drunk driving as seriously as it should.
As a Portland drunk driving victims’ lawyer I will be watching the coming debate in the legislature closely. The Oregonian’s story (see link below) does an excellent job of laying out the arguments on both sides of this complex issue, along with the ways in which the Oregon Senate’s current proposal differs from the bill originally considered by the House. This is a serious issue, and it is good to see our legislators settling in for what I hope will be a serious and thoughtful debate.