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Legislature must toughen up on DUIs

This fall, during the legislative campaign season, many Pennsylvania state lawmakers will jump aboard the opportunity to boast about having voted to toughen penalties for repeat drunken drivers.

To a small degree, they are justified in seizing upon that opportunity. The action was an overdue step forward in regard to making the state’s roadways safer.

Beginning in November, according to the Associated Press, some offenders convicted of a third or subsequent DUI violation will be subject to stiffer sentences.

That word “some” is troubling. The correct word should be “all.”

That concern aside, the big unanswered question on the legislative floor remains: Whatever happened to the principle “Don’t make the same mistake twice?”

Someone can be excused — or receive lighter punishment — for a stupid and/or dangerous mistake if he or she demonstrates true determination not to make the mistake a second time.

But a third, or fourth, or fifth, and still a danger to inflict damage, injury and/or death on a roadway?

The General Assembly should be ashamed for not having assembled legislation that would have made Pennsylvania the toughest anti-DUI state in the nation, by way of much more serious jail time.

In November, a window still will be in place for highway injuries and deaths that could have been avoided if the Legislature had turned off the ignition of anyone failing to learn the right lesson from their first DUI arrest.

Leaders of the Legislature’s two houses are the people ultimately responsible for the law that has emerged; it is they who failed to lead the way toward a law much stronger.

Need a ride to get to work? There are buses, taxis, Ubers, friends or family members available for helping someone get through a period of license suspension or revocation — the kind of learning experience with the potential to open eyes to the seriousness of the issue.

Unfortunately, the soon-to-take-effect law is hardly a measure offering the opportunity to boast emphatically.

Here is what an AP report published in the July 16-17 edition of the Mirror said about the new law:

“It aims to lengthen sentences by requiring someone convicted of a third DUI offense to serve consecutive sentences for separate counts, instead of serving the sentences at the same time,” meaning concurrently.

“The law also increases the grading of offenses — and the potential length of the sentence — for someone convicted of a fourth DUI if they are caught with drugs or record a high blood alcohol content.”

Really, for a third DUI offense, for a fourth DUI? By that time, such an irresponsible individual already should be behind bars, and not just for a couple of weeks or months.

Will it take a spate of crashes involving multiple fatalities — or the loss of one or more of its own — to wake up the Legislature about its tougher-but-still-coddling mindset?

Will it take the loss of a young mother and the children she is driving to daycare to evoke a personal meeting with legislative conscience?

The “will-it-takes” are potentially endless.

The headline over the July 16-17 AP article was “Repeat DUI penalties toughened,” but it is obvious that they were not toughened enough.

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