A law to aid prosecutors in keeping drunk drivers off the road took effect Nov. 1.
House Bill 3146, authored by state Rep. Mike Sanders and Sen. Greg Treat, created the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and will move all DUI cases from municipal non-courts of record to a court of record. It would allow any municipality with a population of 60,000 or more would have the option to create a court of record. Arresting municipalities would still receive a portion of the fines.
There are 354 municipal courts in Oklahoma that handle a large volume of DUI arrests but that are not ‘courts of record.’ Oklahoma City and Tulsa are the only current municipal courts of record. This previously allowed drivers with multiple DUI arrests to be treated in many cases as first-time offenders and receive only minimal punishment under the law, meaning they could potentially reoffend.
“This law is ultimately about protecting the lives of Oklahoma motorists,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I’m excited to see where this takes us in being able to reduce drunk driving in our state in the coming years.
“The number of drunk-driving offenses is a black eye on our state. This law is about public safety; it gives an important new tool to prosecutors to be able to better flag and appropriately prosecute repeat drunk drivers, and that will save lives.”
Sanders said the new law is four-fold in that it makes sure repeat drunk drivers are removed from Oklahoma roads and properly prosecuted. It does this by adding a database so that from this point forward every DUI on every city street, county road or state highway is recorded. And, it allows district attorneys the option of developing assessments and treatment plans for offenders.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and the 51st (including states and territories) for improvement over the previous 10-year period (NHTSA, 2012).
Sanders said he began researching the problem after his wife, Nellie, was struck by a drunk driver in Oklahoma City. His wife, fortunately, was not seriously injured, but Sanders discovered the driver who hit her car had been arrested five times for DUI in five months and was arrested a sixth time just more than a week later.
At the time the legislation was signed into law, Toby Taylor, Chairman of the Governor’s Impaired Driving Prevention Advisory Council, said of it, “This legislation marks a watershed in the history of impaired driving in Oklahoma, by creating accountability for every impaired driving arrest in Oklahoma and providing law enforcement with a much needed tool to identify those individuals who are repeat impaired driving offenders. This is a critical piece of the puzzle in our efforts to reduce the incidence of impaired driving related traffic crashes in Oklahoma.”
Other legislators also praised the initiative.
“Drunk driving can result in terrible tragedy and repeat drunk drivers are among the most dangerous,” said Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, a former prosecutor. “This legislation fixes a system in which many repeat offenders were flying under the radar and allows us to catch more of them.”
“It is hard to overstate what a victory this is for public safety,” said state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “Thousands of DUIs are falling through the cracks that could be used to get repeat offenders off the road. Congratulations to Representative Sanders and Senator Treat for working to get bipartisan support behind this legislation.”
“Repeat drunk drivers are individuals who are dangerous to the rest of us and who are unlikely to reform their ways without intervention,” said state Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso. “This loophole needed to be closed so we can get these individuals off the road.”