Would Gov. Cuomo's propsed DWI laws actually be effective?

While there is little debate about the fact that alcohol impairs one’s ability to drive, not all incidents of alcohol-impaired driving can be treated the same. For instance, an individual who accidently has one too many drinks at happy hour is not the same as a hard partier who knowingly drives drunk on a regular basis.

Because all drunk drivers cannot be painted with the same brush, it seems unwise to propose sweeping changes to New York’s DWI laws that fail to account for these differences. Yet this was the approach taken by Gov. Cuomo in January when he gave his State of the State Address.

He made two proposals for cracking down on drunk driving. First, he suggested a law that would result in license revocation for five years for individuals convicted of two DWIs within a three-year period. He also proposed a “three strikes, you’re out” law that would permanently strip a driver of his or her license after three drunk driving convictions.

Would these proposals actually work? Would they reduce drunk driving rates and help take repeat DWI offenders off the road?

Consider the fact that a significant number of individuals with multiple DWI convictions are alcoholics. Their alcoholism does not excuse their drunk driving or make it any less dangerous, but it does suggest that the threat of harsh drunk-driving punishments will not be an effective deterrent. As such, a “three strikes” law probably wouldn’t reduce drunk driving rates, but it would increase the number of individuals driving drunk and without a license.

Furthermore, what would the three strikes law mean for alcoholics who go into recovery and successfully stop drinking? If a repeat DWI offender has lost their license but then maintains sobriety for five to 10 years, shouldn’t they be able to get their license back?

Instead of focusing on simple punishment, it might make more sense to focus on alternatives that could be more effective. These could include offering chemical dependency treatment for defendants who need it, or by mandating the installation of an ignition interlock device after a certain number of convictions.

Drunk driving is a serious issue and one that affects nearly all New Yorkers on some level. But drunk driving is also a complex issue. If it could have been solved by punishment alone, wouldn’t it be solved at this point?

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