Editorial: DWI loopholes endanger law-abiding motorists

A federal push to toughen drunk driving standards around the nation has failed to gain traction.

The National Transportation’s bid to lower the blood alcohol content level from .08 percent to .05 percent as the standard

for determining driving under the influence has surprisingly met opposition from such groups as the U.S. National Highway

Safety administration and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The fervent DWI critics’ reason? They say states, law enforcement, prosecutors and judges should be more vigilant in enforcing

the current .08 percent law rather than making it stricter.

‘‘Further restricting the moderate

consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does

nothing to stop hardcore

drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel,’’ said Sarah

Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Association.

Allies of that belief need look no

further than a loophole in Louisiana’s state DWI laws. Article 894

allows people arrested

for certain violations, including DWI, to plead guilty. However,

they can have the conviction set aside and sentence suspended,

and be put on active probation.

Drivers invoking Article 894 had to complete the court-ordered probation prior to 2009 before the Office of Motor Vehicles

would reinstate the driver’s license. Often that probation required alcohol counseling or drug treatment.

State Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, pushed legislation in 2009 that he believed would make it harder for DWI offenders to

get their driver’s licenses returned. Burns’ amendment to Act 894 required that a notice be sent to OMV within 30 days of

the offenders’ plea in an effort to make OMV aware that the convicted should be taken off the road.

However, OMV interpreted the notice as meaning that the conviction had been set aside.

‘‘Their (OMV) interpretation of the law passed by Rep. Burns is just wrong,’’ said St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel

Chaisson.

All of this came to light following

a fatal traffic accident caused by a LaPlace woman who as charged with

DWI. Jennifer Englade,

who had been arrested three times for DWI from 1996 to 1999, was

arrested again in April 2012 for DWI. As part of her probation

for the latest DWI, she checked into a drug and alcohol treatment

in April, but checked out the same day.

Englade had a valid driver’s license in May when the car she was driving was involved in a collision that claimed three lives.

Englade had a blood alcohol level of .15 and had cocaine and methamphetamine in her system.

Court records indicate Englade was allowed to plead guilty under Act 894 and had her license reinstated.

Cases like these and those of

multiple DWI offenders have no justification other than loopholes,

misinterpretations, lax prosecutions

or misguided sentences that lead to the endangerment, and

sometimes fatal consequences, for law-abiding motorists.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.