Will new Colorado law reduce repeat DUI offenses and related accidents?

A law that raises penalties for repeat DUI offenses and classifies fourth convictions as felonies could help prevent drunk driving and related accidents.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, about 26,000 people in Colorado are arrested annually for driving under the influence, some after causing serious accidents. These needless crashes claim an average of 150 lives per year. Sadly, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, about one-third of these arrests and drunk driving accidents may involve habitual offenders.

The same source states that recidivism is a significant issue for both first-time and repeat offenders. Even the average first-time offender has driven drunk 80 times before getting caught. Fortunately, Colorado lawmakers have recently passed new legislation that could help discourage these repeat offenses.

More appropriate sanctions

The legislation creates stronger penalties for second- and third-time DUI offenses and establishes fourth-time offenses as felonies. The legislative text states that a person convicted of a second-time or higher DUI may now be ordered to install an ignition interlock device for up to five years. KVDR News reports that people convicted of felony fourth-time DUIs may now be punished with up to six years in prison.

According to KVDR News, before Gov. John Hickenlooper signed this bill, Colorado was one of just four states that lacked a felony DUI law. This legislation, which becomes effective Aug. 5, will establish much more serious consequences for repeat DUI offenders, which could help reduce overall offenses.

Addressing high recidivism rates

Statistics suggest that recidivism is a sizable problem here in Colorado. According to KVDR News, in 2014, more than 12,000 people in Colorado qualified as persistent drunk drivers. This classification applies to people with repeat convictions, chemical testing refusals or convictions for high-BAC offenses. Additionally, CBS Local states that as many as 1,800 people are convicted each year for a fourth-time or higher DUI.

Troublingly, MADD explains that both first-time and repeat DUI offenders tend to have similar recidivism rates. This pattern occurs despite the escalating penalties that each new offense brings. Often, factors other than punishment and the threat of future punishment may be needed to break the pattern. Considering this, the expansion of the state's ignition interlock program may offer considerable safety benefits.

Stopping needless accidents

Requiring convicted offenders to use ignition interlock devices for longer periods may help prevent future offenses and accidents. MADD cites the following research-based findings to highlight the potential benefits of ignition interlock devices:

  • Administrative license suspension does not deter 50 to 75 percent of convicted offenders from driving.
  • Ignition interlock devices, in contrast, can lower recidivism rates by as much as 67 percent.
  • In four states that require all offenders to install ignition interlock devices, fatalities that occur in impaired driving crashes have fallen over 30 percent.

These findings suggest that the new law may ultimately help reduce alcohol-related car crashes, injuries and deaths in Colorado. Unfortunately, though, accidents involving first-time offenders and offenders who have already completed their punishments may still affect many people.

When these unnecessary accidents result in injuries, victims may have legal recourse. A drunk driving accident attorney might be able to help these victims better understand their rights and pursue any available remedies.

Keywords: drunk driving, accident, injury