One lawmaker in Illinois has spearheaded an unusual new law regarding repeat drunk drivers. Rather than work to stiffen already severe penalties, the proposed measure actually cuts certain repeat offenders a little slack. The goal is to give repeat offenders who have permanently lost their licenses another shot to drive again, hopefully rehabilitating the drivers into fully functioning members of society.
State Representative Elaine Nekritz chose to sponsor the legislation, dubbed a “redemption bill,” after she says a man from her district reached out to her with his story. The man explained that after his fourth DWI conviction and the permanent loss of his driver’s license, he slowly began to put his life back together. The man started attending church, sought treatment for his alcohol addiction, began attending AA regularly, married and has begun working a stable job. After years of sobriety, the man says he would love the chance to get his driving privileges restored, believing he has been fully rehabilitated.
Nekritz agreed that the man had changed and decided that permanently barring repeat drunk drivers from ever driving again makes little sense. Once a person has repaid their debt to society they should be given the opportunity to rejoin that society and driving is a critical component of such a reintegration.
The redemption bill will not allow all repeat offenders to get their licenses back, only those who are willing to jump through multiple hoops to prove they have truly changed. The law says that a person would need to wait at least five years after their last DUI conviction, complete a rehabilitation program, test clean and sober for at least three full years and then apply to the state to issue a new driver’s license. If all these hurdles are cleared, the person would need to do one more thing; purchase an ignition interlock device to monitor their blood alcohol content for life.
So far, some legislators have come out against the measure, but many others have embraced it. While Mothers Against Drunk Driving has said it is opposed to the measure, another national anti-drunk driving group is in favor of it. The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists has said that the measure supports a broader goal of rehabilitating those with serious alcohol problems and that if a driver can prove they have changed then it’s good to give them a chance to do so legally.
This last argument is what has mobilized so much support in the Illinois legislature. Many lawmakers have been convinced that providing a path for repeat offenders to legally get their licenses reinstated and then be monitored for the foreseeable future is a far better option than to turn a blind eye on the fact that many without licenses continue driving illegally, dramatically increasing the danger to innocent motorists.
So far the bill has passed a House panel on a unanimous 15-0 vote. Backers say they expect the measure to go up for a full vote of the chamber by the end of the month. You can bet that advocates on both sides of the issue will closely watch the outcome of the vote, something that could lead to similar changes in other states if it proves effective.
Source: “Bill would give chronic drunken drivers another chance,” by Maura Zurick, published at ChicagoTribune.com.