More than 250 people from the metro-east region have four or more convictions for drunken driving but could get driving permits under a new state law.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, would allow restricted driving permits for those people if they’ve been sober at least three years and if they install an ignition interlock device, which prevents a car from starting if its operator has been drinking.
Previously, drivers with four or more DUI convictions had their driving privileges revoked for life.
Proponents say many people with multiple driving under the influence convictions are already cruising Illinois’ roadways — illegally. The new law, they argue, would at least get those drivers connected to interlock devices and put them under some restriction.
But critics say four-time DUI offenders have already proven they can’t be trusted behind the wheel, and don’t deserve a fifth chance.
We all want second chances, but I don’t know if we should give you a third and a fourth and a fifth before we finally just say, ‘You’re putting the public at risk and we’re not going to allow it.’
Sen. Kyle McCarter, opponent of the bill
“How many chances do you give somebody when they put the public at risk because of their behavior?” said Sen. Kyle McCarter, a Lebanon Republican who voted against the legislation. “We all want second chances, but I don’t know if we should give you a third and a fourth and a fifth before we finally just say, ‘You’re putting the public at risk and we’re not going to allow it.’”
Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, who voted in favor of the bill, said getting repeat DUI offenders connected to ignition interlock devices will improve highway safety. He noted that eligible people will be required to show proof of long-term sobriety before obtaining one of the permits.
“They have to do a number of things which protect the public, and while doing that, hopefully they’ll begin to realize they are suffering from an addiction, and they have to deal with it. And if they don’t deal with it, they’ve got to take the bus,” Haine said.
5,086 eligible statewide
Secretary of State Jesse White’s office says there are 5,086 people in Illinois who have had their driver’s licenses revoked for a fourth DUI conviction and could potentially obtain restricted driving permits under the new law.
Those include 101 people in St. Clair County, 112 in Madison County, 19 in Randolph County, 10 in Bond County, six in Washington County, six in Monroe County and four in Clinton County.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, said some people with multiple DUI convictions aren’t able to find work because they can’t drive, or they’re choosing to drive without a license in order to keep their jobs.
I see it as a matter of redemption and safety because a lot of these people are driving anyway to provide for a family or themselves.
Rep. Elaine Nekritz, sponsor of the bill
“I see it as a matter of redemption and safety because a lot of these people are driving anyway to provide for a family or themselves,” Nekritz told the Chicago Sun-Times. “So we might as well make it legal. I believe people can change and turn their lives around.”
Belleville attorney Tom Daley, who touts himself as the metro-east’s “DUI King,” said he supports the new law. But he questions how many four-time offenders will actually take advantage of it.
“Very few of them are responsible enough to be getting this kind of stuff,” Daley said. “They’d be more likely to just continue to drive and try to watch themselves — keep from getting arrested.”
He added: “There is a whole subculture of unlicensed drivers out there. All you have to do is look how many tickets are written for revoked driver’s licenses.”
Daley said that it costs a driver nearly $2,000 per year to have an ignition interlock device. Most four-time DUI offenders, he noted, aren’t “on the cutting edge of the income bracket.” On top of that, a four-time DUI offender is likely to pay high insurance rates.
“It’s so expensive, I don’t know how many people are going to do it,” Daley said. “I would not suspect there is going to be a big run on this stuff, no.”
The legislation’s supporters included the Illinois chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“It puts motorists back into the system,” said state MADD Director Sam Canzoneri. “Individuals were slipping through the cracks before. This is a way to put the individuals back into the system and have controls in place to make sure they’re operating their vehicles legally within the state.”
Canzoneri acknowledged, though, that even within MADD, there is some disagreement about the law.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, it has been somewhat controversial,” Canzoneri said. He said some MADD members, particularly law-enforcement people and volunteers who have lost loved ones to DUI crashes, feel “that four bites of the apple is too many.”
Canzoneri said the ignition devices and other requirements in the law “are all very, very positive in respect to making our highways safer.”
Canzoneri agreed with Daley’s prediction that there won’t be a large number of people seeking the permits. He said the cost of a DUI court case alone, with attorney fees, often approaches $20,000. And then the prospective driver would need to pay for the ignition device, pay high insurance rates, and possibly pay more attorney’s fees for legal help in getting the driving permit from the Secretary of State’s office.
“I’d say it would be far, far less than half of those 5,000,” Canzoneri said. “It might end up being only several hundred.”
Other supporters of the bill included the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers.
Under the new law, a person would be eligible to apply for one of the restricted driving permits five years after his or her most recent DUI or release from imprisonment.
White’s office is preparing rules for the issuance of the permits.
How they voted
Metro-east’s state lawmakers vote on House Bill 1446
▪ Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville: Yes
▪ Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton: Yes
▪ Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville: No
▪ Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon: No
▪ Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton: Yes
▪ Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem: No
▪ Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton: No
▪ Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea: Yes
▪ Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis: Yes
▪ Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon: No
▪ Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: No
Metro-east ZIP codes with most drivers with four-plus DUI convictions:
62040 (Granite City): 20
62234 (Collinsville): 18
62002 (Alton): 17
62269 (O’Fallon): 9
622025 (Edwardsville): 9
62221 (Belleville): 8
62208 (Fairview Heights): 7
62232 (Caseyville): 7
62201 (East St. Louis): 7
62024 (East Alton): 7
62035 (Godfrey) 6
62095 (Wood River): 6
62220 (Belleville): 6