HARRISBURG (March 22, 2016) Joined by the family of a Lancaster-area teen killed by a drunk driver with a suspended license in 2014 and a long line of other grieving families, Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-13) called for harsher sanctions on repeat drunk drivers who kill.
His effort was supported by Sen. John Rafferty (R-44), Rep. Keith Greiner (R-Lancaster), Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, and other members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, who are urging support for additional legislation to require ignition interlocks for drunk drivers after their first conviction.
Smucker’s legislation, Senate Bill 839, increases the penalty for killing a person while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the driver has more than two prior offenses within a 10-year period. It would add a presumption of recklessness or negligence when a person dies at the hands of an impaired driver.
It was a hearing held in Lancaster after the tragic death of 18-year-old Meredith Demko, just days after her graduation from Lampeter-Strasburg High School, the appalling driving record of her killer, and her grieving family, who helped to inspire his bill.
“This bill is just one more way to drive home the many anti-drunk driving messages out there: pick a designated driver. Take someone’s keys. Call a cab. Impairment begins with the first drink. Drinking and driving don’t mix,” Smucker said. “Look at the price the Demkos paid. And look at the criminal sanctions faced by most drunk drivers. In this tragedy, there are no do-overs, but we can work to find some measure of justice.”
More than two million Americans have three or more drunk driving offenses, Smucker said.
“Even if we take their licenses, statistics show that more than half of them will drive anyway,” Smucker said. “Knowing that one of three traffic deaths involves drunk driving, it is high time we target the repeat offender.”
Smucker’s bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for its consideration.
The Pennsylvania Senate has already unanimously passed Senate Bill 290 by Senator Rafferty. Representative Greiner authored a similar bill, House Bill 278. Both bills require convicted drunk drivers with illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .10 or greater to use ignition interlocks for at least 12 months for first time offenders. Under current law, second and subsequent offenders are also required to use ignition interlocks for 12 months.
The bill received first consideration in the House of Representatives yesterday.
Due in part to similar laws passed in other states, drunk driving deaths have declined dramatically and at a faster pace than the national average. Arizona and West Virginia have seen a 50 percent and 40 percent reduction, respectively, in drunk driving deaths since passing all-offender interlock laws.
Senator Rafferty, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said, “This bill is smart on crime and extends the use of ignition interlocks in Pennsylvania to save lives and allow offenders of Driving under the Influence (DUI) to continue driving to work and school in a controlled environment.”
In 2014, 345 people were killed in crashes caused by a drunk driver in Pennsylvania.
“DUI-related tragedies are far too common across the Commonwealth. It is my hope that ignition interlock legislation will prevent tragedies and save lives,” said Rep. Greiner. “This is not a partisan issue. I am hopeful that ignition interlock legislation will be signed into law this year and thankful to everyone, from victims and police officers, to prosecutors and elected officials, who are working to move this legislation forward.”
In Pennsylvania, where ignition interlocks are only required for repeat offenders, ignition interlocks have stopped 78,210 attempts to drive drunk.
Thirty-eight states have laws that require interlocks for some level of first-time offenders. Twenty-five states, including Delaware and New York, require these devices for all first-time convicted drunk drivers.
CONTACT: Diane McNaughton