Measure gets tough on highly intoxicated drivers
First offenders would face six months without a license, plates and registration
State lawmakers are moving legislation to slap tougher penalties on drunken drivers found to be "highly intoxicated."
A bill would create a new classification for drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 percent or higher, nearly double the current threshold for drunken driving of 0.08 percent.
For a first offense, the driver would face six months without a driver's license, license plates or vehicle registration.
First offenders now face penalties as low as three months without a driver's license. The idea is to both increase the penalties and to get very drunken drivers off the road and away from their vehicles, said Carol McNamee, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving-Hawaii.
According to the state Department of Transportation, a person with a 0.15 percent blood-alcohol level is 380 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a sober driver. And of the 184 fatal alcohol-related crashes in the state between 2000 and 2004, 85, or 43.9 percent, involved drivers with readings of 0.15 percent or greater.
"None of it is good. But their levels are just extreme," McNamee said.
Following a first offense, drivers with high blood-alcohol levels would generally fall under the same penalty perimeters used for other repeat drunken drivers.
The Senate Transportation and Government Operations Committee yesterday passed the bill and sent it to the Senate Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.
House Transportation Chairman Joe Souki deferred a similar bill yesterday in the House to make the Senate version the only vehicle for the measure.
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia already have similar laws in place for drivers with high blood-alcohol levels.
Lawmakers also revived a bill Tuesday from last year's session that would impose harsher penalties for those under 21 convicted of illegal possession of liquor.
Under the bill, young drivers would have their licenses suspended for 180 days. And those who don't yet have their licenses would have their eligibility for a license suspended for 180 days or until they're 17, whichever is longer.