This week I want to highlight two measures approved during the 2011 legislative session to update Nebraska's drunk driving laws. Both bills represent a common sense approach to dealing with the challenges presented by motorists who choose to drive drunk.
The first bill, LB 667, was introduced by Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk. It will require individuals convicted on a first and second offense of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) to install ignition lock device in their vehicles in order to prevent them from driving while drunk.
Statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers indicate that up to 75 percent of drunken drivers whose licenses are suspended continue to drive. Rather than beginning an administrative process to revoke a driver license, LB 667 provides first-time DUI offenders the option of installing an interlock device immediately and avoiding an administrative hearing in favor of a more effective method of monitoring.
As long as the driver remains sober, they would retain the ability to drive to work, medical appointments, probation meetings, and other locations. The bill attempts to prevent drunk driving in a practical manner that is more effective than a temporary revocation of a driver's license.
The bill also creates a new criminal offense of driving drunk with a child in the vehicle and makes motor vehicle homicide of an unborn child a distinct crime from the DUI offense.
The second bill, LB 675, sponsored by Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha, helps address the challenges posed by repeat drunken drivers. LB 675 requires a driver who exceeds the legal limit of a .08 alcohol level and is convicted of a fifth DUI offense with to serve a minimum two-year prison sentence.
Additionally, the law doubles fines for most of Nebraska's drunk-driving convictions and increases the penalties for hit-and-run drivers who are involved in accidents that result in death or serious injury.
Both bills will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
These new laws are an important part of our continue efforts to make Nebraska roads safer. We want to find meaningful ways of stopping the drivers who are more likely to put themselves, their passengers and other motorists at risk by drinking and driving.
A stronger commitment to preventing drunk driving is just one tool being used to improve the safety of Nebraska roads. Another important factor is the effort made to remind motorist to buckle up. Last year, Nebraska's seat belt use rate was 84 percent for drivers and front seat passengers and 91 percent for child safety restraints.
Increased enforcement efforts by the Nebraska State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies have also played a role in reducing the number of crashes and fatalities on Nebraska roads. I want to applaud our law enforcement officers and public safety partners for their role in curbing drunk driving, and I want to thank every driver and passenger for buckling up each time you get in a vehicle.
These basic steps, combined with more effective laws targeting drunk driving, will help ensure more Nebraskans arrive home safe.