After several decades of chastising, then vilifying and then demonizing drunk drivers, it is important to note that the effort has worked: 968 people died in Illinois drunken driving crashes in 1982; 393 died in 2012. In other words, three of every five would-be drunk driving deaths were prevented.
One of the tools Illinois used was lifetime revocation of driving privileges for the folks who just never understood that calling a friend or taxi should be their only options when they drank too much to get home. These are people who were caught and convicted of driving drunk not once, not twice, not three times, but after four DUI convictions.
We now learn that there are 5,085 of those four-time losers in Illinois. More than 250 of them are in the metro-east, with more than 100 each in St. Clair and Madison counties.
Illinois just passed a law giving them a route to drive again, but under supervision. They must wait five years, then prove they have been clean and sober for three years before they can obtain a device that only allows the car to start after they blow into it to detect any alcohol. Driving privileges are restricted to work, taking the kids to school and other necessary travel.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists led the charge for tougher Illinois DUI laws. They back this change.
One argument is that these folks are driving anyway, and this brings them into the light and under a magnifying glass. Another is that people deserve a chance to redeem themselves.
The newspaper’s files are filled with stories about the tragedies drunk drivers have caused and the many legal maneuvers available to them to drive again if they spend enough money on the right lawyers. Just this week we were reminded that the smart driver, sober or drunk, would refuse a sobriety test as did a Millstadt man after a fatal collision with a Belleville motorcyclist.
So it is with trepidation that we enter into this new era. Yes, people should have an opportunity to change, but just how many chances do they deserve and how many deaths will we accept?