Many DUI offenders know the drill
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Many of Hawaii's drunken drivers are not learning from experience.
That is the conclusion of a first-ever compilation of arrest numbers from the state Administrative Driver's License Revocation Office.
The figures for 2007 show that 18 percent of those arrested on suspicion of drunken driving had been pulled over before. That rate was nearly mirrored on the Big Island and Maui.
Of 6,340 arrests statewide last year, 96 involved people who had three or more prior DUI arrests.
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About 18 percent of those arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence last year had previous DUI arrests, according to numbers compiled manually by state Judiciary officials at the request of the Star-Bulletin.
There were 6,340 cases of drivers arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence in the state in 2007. Of those, 1,146 had at least one prior arrest of driving under the influence, according to records at the state Administrative Driver's License Revocation Office.
The statistic is troubling for both law enforcement and community groups, particularly since the number of DUI arrests has increased by about 89 percent since 2000.
"It's incredibly frustrating because it just shows that what we're currently doing isn't working," said Leah Marx, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving-Hawaii. "People continue to drive drunk because they can. There's nothing that is stopping them from doing so."
The percentage of repeat offenders is consistent across the counties: 18 percent for Oahu, 19 percent for the Big Island, 19 percent for Maui and 13 percent for Kauai.
"Any repeat offender in any type of criminal case is a concern for the department," said Maj. Susan Dowsett, of the Honolulu Police Department's traffic safety division.
The number of repeat offenders from previous years was unavailable because neither the state nor police have a regular mechanism in place to track the statistics. The 2007 figures had to be manually compiled.
There appear to be no indicators for who is driving under the influence, said Ronald Sakata, the revocation office's chief adjudicator.
"In terms of age, sex and economic status, it really runs across the board," Sakata said. "I think it's got to do with people's philosophies on social drinking and whether they think they have a substance abuse problem."
Sakata said convention wisdom is that many of the repeat offenders are habitual drunken drivers, which is why his office makes an automatic referral to driver's education. From there it will be determined whether the driver needs to seek help in addressing a substance abuse problem.
MADD-Hawaii is pinning its hopes on a bill that would allow ignition interlocks in the state. The locks would force drunken drivers to pass a breathalyzer test before starting their vehicle.
House Bill 3377 would require installation of the interlocks for repeat offenders and those convicted of driving while severely intoxicated. Hawaii law defines severe intoxication as having a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 or more.
About 41 percent of drunken drivers last year were highly intoxicated, according to Honolulu police. The 0.15 level -- almost twice the legal limit for driving -- also was the average level of intoxication among DUI arrests last year.
Lawmakers will take a final vote this week on the bill. According to MADD-Hawaii, 45 states have ignition interlock laws, but some make it an optional sentence or require it only for habitual violators.
"That's our big push right now because that is the ultimate way to stop someone from drinking and driving," Marx said.
Marx said 18 percent of repeat DUI offenders is 18 percent too much, which is why the group hopes to find new alternatives in combating drunken driving. There were 68 traffic fatalities on Oahu last year, and at least 23 of them involved alcohol.
"We really want to break that mind-set and get people to see the harsh reality of what can happen," Marx said. "It starts with the driver, and them realizing the consequences of their actions."