New DUI law allows second-time offenders limited driver’s license

pramati@macon.comJanuary 6, 2013 

A new Georgia law that took effect Jan. 1 allows drivers convicted of a second DUI to get a provisional driving permit, provided they meet certain conditions.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed the legislation last April, and proponents for the changes in the state’s DUI law think it ultimately will be beneficial to all Georgians. The law allows drivers who meet certain conditions to begin using their cars for work or other specific purposes 120 days after their second conviction, but only if they have completed an education course and installed an interlock device in their vehicles.

Macon attorney Mike Cranford, who specializes in DUI cases, said he helped advise the committee that made the changes.

“We worked hard to get the changes in the law,” said Cranford, a former Macon City Council member. “(The old law) was putting people on the welfare rolls because they couldn’t go to their jobs or take their kids to school.”

Under the new law, the limited permit will allow drivers to go to their jobs, attend school, go to medical appointments and pick up prescriptions, go to court appearances, go to court-mandated counseling and attend alcohol support meetings. It also allows them to drive family members to work or the same kinds of appointments.

To get the provisional license, drivers must have an interlock device, which requires the driver to blow into a tube to determine intoxication. A driver is unable to start the vehicle if the device measures too high an alcohol level.

Bibb County Solicitor Rebecca Grist said there was little opposition to the bill when legislators were working on it.

“Drivers would have to perform certain tasks,” she said. “There are several conditions you’d have to meet before you can get a provisional license.”

Barry Martin, executive director of the Georgia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the only issue his organization has with the new law is that it doesn’t go far enough. He would like to see the changes applied to first-time DUI offenders instead of only second-time offenders.

He cited a Centers for Disease Control study that indicates 80 percent of first-time DUI offenders have existing issues with alcohol. Martin noted that since interlock devices were introduced to the state, DUI-related deaths in Georgia have fallen from about 350 in 2008 to 277 deaths in 2011.

An all-offender law, rather than a second-time offender one, potentially could lead to 25 percent to 50 percent more lives saved, based on estimates done in other states that have similar laws for first offenders, Martin said.

“That’s 70 to 140 (extra) lives,” he said, adding that an estimated 75 percent of first-time offenders get charged with a second DUI. “(The new law) doesn’t go far enough. We’ve tried to impress upon legislators that first-time offenders are just as dangerous as second-, third-time offenders.”

However, Martin noted, the new law makes progress in curbing multiple DUI offenses, since the previous law was difficult to enforce.

“Actually, we’re in support of the new law because it solves a problem,” he said. “(Data shows that) people on a suspended license will drive anyway. There was no way to verify if the sentence had any teeth. Now, you’re giving them a limited license with the interlock where they can only do certain things. Since 75 percent of them were going to drive anyway, this can help ensure that they drive sober.”

Cranford noted that the drivers will have to pay for the interlock device, which costs about $100 per month.

“My understanding is that (the previous law) was such an egregious law that it was causing more harm than what the law was intended to do,” he said.

Martin said the new law fits in with what his organization’s mission.

“We’re trying to stop drunk driving,” he said. “If (the new law) means that someone with a DUI stops driving drunk, that’s a life saved. There’s the idea that you can get them to be a productive member of society.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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