LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - New legislation that went into effect in Oklahoma Tuesday looks to bring harsher punishments to all repeat DUI offenders.
The "Impaired Driving Elimination Act" moves all DUI cases from municipal non-courts to 'courts of record', essentially allowing them to more easily be followed from county to county and making it easier to locate and punish repeat offenders.
In Oklahoma, a 2nd offense for DUI is a felony and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, compared to a first offense which usually is just a fine and minimal jail time. In the past, drunk drivers could receive several first offenses if they were in different counties, but now every offense from the entire state will be recorded.
District 59 representative Mike Sanders, from Kingfisher, is the author of the bill and said he first realized a need for this bill after his wife was hit by a drunk driver. She, fortunately, was not badly injured, but Sanders and his wife found out that driver had 5 DUIs in a 5-month span and received a 6th DUI just a week later. Sanders said this bill is simply about keeping people safe from those who choose to drink and drive.
"This will absolutely protect thousands of people," Sanders said. "Our job as lawmakers is to take an oath, and we did, to protect the public and this is one of the responsibilities and this is common sense legislation that will protect the public."
Sanders said the problem worsened because a lack of communication as cities and counties around the state failed to share their DUI information with one another.
"There were multiple, and I mean multiple, arrests from people who had had 10, 15, even 20-plus DUIs," Sanders said. "What happens is they go in, they get arrested, they go in and pay a $300 fine, whatever the case may be, go across county lines, pick up another DUI, four months later repeat the same process. That's why this database is imperative."
The new database will also help law enforcement personnel, allowing them to know who they are dealing with when they pull over a drunk driver.
"Every city police officer, every county deputy, sheriff, highway patrol, will have access to this in their law enforcement cars," Sanders said. "So every law enforcement officer in Oklahoma will have access to it, which has never been done."
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Zachary Wright agreed and said he thinks this new bill will have a huge impact on those who in the past might have considered drinking and driving.
"There's a lot of times if they've done it once, they'll do it again," Wright said. "And I think the fact that they'll be charged with the full prosecution is going to change a lot of things and I think it'll make them think twice about getting behind the wheel when they've been drinking."
Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and 51st, including territories, for improvement over the previous 10-year span. You can find a link to the bill in its entirety here.