Killers on Delaware’s roadways

 

DOVER — Drunk drivers are on the road today.

Some might get arrested, many will go undetected.

Impaired motorists are everywhere and that’s dangerous for everyone, sober or not.

Consider one weekend last October: Police made 16 DUI stops in Kent County in three days.

Those arrested came from 10 different towns — Dover, Smyrna, Clayton, Felton, Camden, Frederica, Milford, Millsboro, Magnolia and Kenton.

During a 25-day stretch in late January through mid-February, seven felony drunken drivers (with at least two DUI convictions) were arrested in the area, including two men for the sixth time each.

The wide-ranging suspects resided in Camden, Felton (two), Middletown, Harrington, Clayton and Frederica.

While reported DUIs spike during targeted law enforcement operations, Delaware Office of Highway Safety Director Jana Simpler said, “I don’t have a way to quantify how many impaired drivers are not caught.”

Even one offense is serious, Ms. Simpler said and “has the potential to result in a traffic fatality.”

But DUI arrests were at a five-year low in 2016, according to the Delaware Justice Information System. Felony cases dropped for a fourth straight year.

However, there’s no calculating how the trend might relate to enforcement operations and/or motorist attitudes toward drinking or doing drugs and driving.

According to the Delaware State Police, 13 percent of all DUI stops statewide between Jan. 1, 2016 and April 19 involved a driver’s alleged third offense or more. The breakdown included:

Third offense – 256 arrests.

Fourth offense – 108 arrests.

Fifth offense – 52 arrests.

Sixth offense – 17 arrests.

Seventh offense – 12 arrests.

The OHS reported that 44 percent of all fatal crashes in 2016 involved an impaired driver. Also, impairment-involved fatal crashes dropped from 2015 (53 percent) to 2016 (44 percent).

“We are very pleased with that downward trend and certainly hope it continues,” Ms. Simpler said.

Curbing drunk drivers

Ms. Simpler said she believes proactive enforcement is among the best strategies to curb drunken driving, including monitoring liquor store compliance and checking on over service at restaurants and bars.

Other ways to cut down on impaired motorists include:

• Drug recognition expert and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement and other training for law enforcement officers.

• Strong laws and prosecution.

•Education/communications/outreach campaigns encouraging the prevention of impaired driving – highlighting dangers as well as consequences through paid media, media coverage, social media and digital media.

Spokesman Carl Kanefsky said “The Department of Justice takes these crimes very seriously, and driving under the influence is as important as any other felony.

“A great amount of time goes into the prosecution of all crimes including DUI cases.”

At times, the Delaware State Police publicizes drunken driving arrests.

“A press release is usually created for felony DUI’s if it draws significant attention, for example a crash with serious injuries, fatal injuries, or aggravated incidents which result from a pursuit or other unusual circumstances,” DSP spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said.

As state lawmakers continue to study simplifying Delaware’s Criminal Code and eliminating unnecessary, ineffective or outdated portions, there’s no telling how DUI laws could be affected in the future. The General Assembly will determine what, if any, changes are made through legislation.

DUI laws were last strengthened in 2012 when minimum penalties were increased with each offense through the seventh. Maximum sentences available to judges were also increased.

Also, rehabilitation programs were enhanced, with more intensive treatment options imposed.

At the same time, the Department of Correction implemented a Reflections Program tailored for individuals with alcohol issues.

“The Attorney General supports programs across the board to promote recovery and reduce recidivism,” Mr. Kanefsky said.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Delaware was one of 22 states that considered a third offense DUI a felony as of June 2015.

Four states could enter a felony charge after a second stop ; those were Indiana, Minnesota, New York and Oklahoma.

In 19 states, a fourth DUI constituted a felony, while it took five in Washington.

Washington, D.C., Maryland, Maine, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had no felony DUI laws.

In Delaware all felony DUI convictions come with mandatory jail time.

Some time may be suspended with participation in a drug and alcohol treatment and abstinence programs required by Delaware Code.

In 2014, Delaware became the 24th state to mandate ignition interlock devices (IID) after all misdemeanor and felony convictions,

At the time, MADD said “Now, Delaware will begin to see a reduction in drunken driving deaths.

“MADD applauds Delaware for its strong initiatives and programs to enforce drunk driving law and save lives on the roads.”

Attempts to reach MADD for further comment this week were unsuccessful.

Meeting requirements

Proof of insurance is required by the Division of Motor Vehicles to receive the IIDs.

The Division of Driver Improvement Unit contacts offenders to confirm the interlocks have been installed on all vehicle registered in his or her names.

The DMV said that during revocation periods it “receives reports from the IID vendors on the offenders devices and takes appropriate action when notified of additional offenses, such as device lock-outs due to the detection of alcohol.

“DMV also ensures the offender has successfully completed all requirements of the IID program and a course of instruction and/or program of rehabilitation prior to the reinstatement of full driving authority at the end of their revocation period.”

A statewide Impaired Driving Task Force established in 2013 is working to curb impaired driving in Delaware.

Its mission is to increase safety on Delaware’s roadways by focusing on reducing impaired driving crashes and the underlying causal factors, officials said.

Ms. Simpler said the Court of Common Pleas plans to expand DUI courts in Kent and Sussex counties “in the near future.” In New Castle County, the court mandates intensive treatment and monitoring in lieu of mandatory jail time.

“While second offense DUIs are not a felony, the hope is to prevent someone from having a felony third DUI offense,” Ms. Simpler said.

 

First, second DUIs

Following are fines, penalties and requirements for first and second DUI offenses in Delaware. All offenses require successful completion of a course of instruction and/or program rehabilitation:

First offense election

Fine – $250.

Penalties – 12 months license revocation.

Requirements – At least four months have elapsed since the IID was installed on the vehicle(s) and the ignition interlock license was issued.

First conviction

Fine – $500 to $1,500 or prison not more than 12 months or both.

Penalties – 12 months license revocation except that if the offender’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was between .15-.19 the revocation period shall be 18 months, or if the offender’s BAC was .20 or greater or the offender refused a chemical test, the period of revocation shall be 24 months.

Requirements – For a person whose BAC is below .15, at least 12 months have elapsed since the ignition interlock device(IID) was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued, if the BAC was .15-.19, at least 17 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued. For a BAC .20 or greater, at least 23 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued.

Second conviction

Fine – For a second offense occurring at any time within 10 years of a prior offense, be fined not less than $750 nor more than $2500. And imprisoned not less than 60 days nor more than 18 months.

Penalties – 18 months license revocation except that if the offender’s BAC was between .15-.19 the revocation period shall be 24 months, if the offender’s BAC is .20 or greater or the offender has refused a chemical test, the revocation period shall be 30 months.

Requirements – For a person whose BAC .15 or less, at least 16 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued. If the BAC is .15-.19, at least 22 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued. If the BAC is .20 or greater, at least 28 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued.

Felony DUIs

Following are fines and penalties for felony DUI offenses in Delaware. All offenses require successful completion of a course of instruction and/or program rehabilitation:

Third conviction (Class G Felony)

Fine – for a third offense occurring at any time after two prior offenses, be fined not more than $5,000. And be imprisoned not less than one year nor more than two years.

Penalties – 24 months license revocation except that if the offender’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was between .15-.19 the revocation period shall be 30 months, or if the offender’s BAC was .20 or greater, or the offender has refused a chemical test, the revocation period shall be 36 months.

Requirements – For a person whose BAC is .15 or lower, at least 21 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued. If the BAC is .15-.19, at least 27 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued. If the BAC .20 or greater, at least 33 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued. Fourth conviction (Class E Felony)

Fine – for a fourth offense occurring any time after three prior offenses, be fined not more than $7,000. And imprisoned not less than two years nor more than five years.

Penalties – 60 months license revocation regardless of the BAC. Requirements, At least 54 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued.

Fifth conviction (Class E Felony)

Fine – for a fifth offense occurring any time after four prior offenses, be fined not more than $10,000. And imprisoned not less than three years nor more than five years. Penalties – 60 months license revocation regardless of the BAC. Requirements, At least 54 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued.

Sixth conviction (Class D Felony)

Fine = for a sixth offense occurring any time after five prior offenses, be fined not more than $10,000. And imprisoned not less than four years nor more than eight years. Penalties – 60 months license revocation regardless of the BAC. Requirements, At least 54 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued.

Seventh conviction (Class C Felony)

Fine – for a seventh offense occurring any time after six prior offenses, be fined not more than $15,000. And imprisoned not less than five years nor greater than 15 years. Penalties – 60 months license revocation regardless of the BAC. Requirements, At least 54 months have elapsed since the day the IID was installed on the vehicle or vehicles and the ignition interlock license was issued.

 

2016 DUIs

Following are the number of DUI case resolution in Delaware last year:

First offense election – 1,328

First conviction – 117

Second conviction – 168

Third conviction – 127

Fourth conviction – 61

Fifth or higher convictions – 43

Total – 1,844

Task force priorities

Following are Impaired Driving Task Force priorities for Fiscal Year 2017-19:

• Support the Court of Common Pleas efforts to continue to coordinate the DUI Court in NCCo and their efforts to expand to Kent and Sussex County.

• Support the implementation of DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) training and additional training as opportunities are available.

• Address the issue of prescription drug use/abuse and driving.

• Support the Traffic Safety Resource Deputy Attorney General Prosecutor in all aspects.

• Maintain the DUI Tracking System.

• Continue Checkpoint Strikeforce enforcement to enforce the state’s DUI laws.

• Support the DSP Crime Lab equipment needs.

• Purchase impaired driving enforcement equipment and sobriety checkpoint safety equipment.

• Support efforts to prevent underage drinking and driving.

• Support efforts to coordinate impaired driving workshops at the 2017 Highway Safety Conference.

• Continue to review available data and use same relative to decision making and action items for the Task Force.

• Establish subcommittees as needed. Current subcommittees include:

a. Regulation Subcommittee

b. Drugged Driving Subcommittee

c. Legislative Subcommittee

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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