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Dwi: Should Punishment Be Stricter For Repeat Offenders?

An abbreviation for driving while intoxicated, which is an offense committed by an individual who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or DRUGS AND NARCOTICS. An abbreviation for died without issue, which commonly appears in genealogical tables.

A showing of complete intoxication is not necessary for a charge of driving while intoxicated. State laws indicate levels of blood-alcohol content at which an individual is deemed to be under the influence of alcohol.

Laws against drunk driving vary slightly from state to state. In the majority of states, a person's first DWI charge (also referred to as Driving Under the Influence, or DUI, in some states) results in an automatic suspension of the violator's license. The length of the suspension in the various states ranges from 45 days to one year. Forty-three states require offenders to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles in order to drive. These devices are capable of analyzing a driver's breath, and the ignition is unlocked only if the driver has not been drinking. In 29 states, violators may be required to forfeit their vehicles that they have driven while impaired.

States have made efforts to strengthen their drunk driving laws since the 1980s. They have imposed longer prison sentences, and many have turned DWI into a felony-level crime for repeat offenders. However, the more controversial issue in this national debate has been the effort to reduce the blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) that is needed to charge a person with DWI, from .10 percent to .08 percent. Proponents have argued that such a reduction is the most effective way to prevent drunk-driving deaths. Opponents contend that the .08 percent standard is too low and that it will ensnare drivers who are not truly impaired. Although many states had adopted the .08 percent standard, proponents sought a national solution, winning a victory in October 2000, when Congress enacted, and then-President WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON signed, the Transportation Appropriation Bill. Included in the act was a provision that requires states to enact a .08 percent BAC as the legal limit or lose part of their federal highway funding. Since this enactment, 36 states and the District of Columbia have reduced their BAC standard to .08 percent, while the others have maintained a .10 percent standard.

Evidence suggests a strong correlation between a BAC greater than .05 percent and risk of serious injury or death while operating a motor vehicle. After a person's BAC reaches .08 percent or more, the probability of a crash climbs rapidly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that in 1998, alcohol played a part in 39 percent of all fatal crashes and seven percent of all traffic accidents. NHTSA also predicted that three out of ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time during their lives.

The Clinton administration supported a national approach to establishing a drunk-driving standard but met congressional resistance. The .08 percent BAC law passed in the Senate in 1998, but it failed to pass in the House of Representatives. As a compromise, Congress provided $500 million of incentive grants over six years to states that have enacted, and that are enforcing, a .08 BAC law. Congress agreed to adopt the .08 limit only after adjusting the timing and severity of penalties for states that refuse to lower their legal limits. States that refuse to lower their limits by October 1, 2003 will lose two percent of their federal highway construction funding. This percentage will increase to four percent in 2004, six percent in 2005, and eight percent in 2006. If states lose funding in 2003, they will have four years to pass the .08 BAC standard. If they do so, the money withheld will be returned to them.

Lowering the BAC percentage is not the only action that states have taken to curb drunk driving. In many states, a refusal to submit to a BAC test is admissible in court. Most states permit police to establish sobriety checkpoints in order to identify drunk drivers. Moreover, in the vast majority of states, vehicular HOMICIDE involving drunk driving is a felony.

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