More News:

January 10, 2017

Does Pennsylvania need tougher DUI laws?

In Pennsylvania, there's no minimum jail time for a first-offense DUI conviction. And no matter how many DUI offenses you rack up, it never becomes a felony, only becoming an upgraded misdemeanor with increased penalties.

Those laws were highlighted in an August study by WalletHub that ranked Pennsylvania as having the fourth-most lenient DUI statutes in the country. The study was cited in a since-deleted Facebook post from Newberry Township Police Chief John Snyder calling for stricter DUI laws in the state. Snyder was responding to a fatal crash that occurred in his central Pennsylvania township on Saturday.

Anthony Fickes, who had two previous drunken-driving convictions, died in the crash, which also took the life of 66-year-old Edna Mikos. The woman's husband, Wayne Mikos, 69, and three children were also injured in the crash. Investigators said they believe Fickes was impaired by alcohol, as they found bottles and cans of alcohol inside and outside his car.

Snyder's Facebook rant was posted on the department's page shortly after the crash. Here's an excerpt of the post, via the York Daily Record:

"When I see innocent people injured or killed because of impaired drivers, I ask myself each time, why do Pennsylvanians tolerate this? Why do our politicians in Harrisburg keep looking the other way? The bodies are piling up and all we as police officers can do is keep fighting the fight on impaired driving enforcement. We need tougher DUI laws."

The Daily Record's editorial board wrote that it wished Snyder hadn't deleted the post and called on readers to contact their state legislators and demand tougher DUI laws.

The newspaper pointed to ways the state could beef up consequences for drunk drivers, such as giving prosecutors the power to take away cars from repeat offenders and investing more money into rehabilitating first-time offenders so they don't become chronic drunk drivers.

There are other potential fixes to the state's lax laws, York County Common Pleas Court Judge John S. Kennedy wrote in an op-ed for the newspaper last year. Kennedy suggested increasing the maximum sentence for first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol content of more than 0.16 (the current maximum is six months in prison) and providing 24/7 alcohol monitoring programs for "hardcore alcohol abusers" so they can stay sober.

Progress was made in 2016 for those hoping to beef up the state's DUI laws. Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill in May that requires some convicted drunk drivers to install a vehicle device that measures their blood-alcohol level before they turn on their car. 

The devices, known as ignition interlock systems, don't allow a driver who's over the legal limit of 0.08 BAC to start a vehicle. If a driver passes repeatedly over the course of a year, the device is removed. The law goes into effect in August 2017.

At least one legislator plans on taking on the issue again in the new legislative session that began earlier this month. Rep. Keith Greiner, R-Lancaster, told ABC27 that he plans to reintroduce a bill that would make repeat DUI offenses felonies. 

Greiner introduced the legislation in September 2016, but it never made it out of committee. 

"There is no excuse for driving under the influence and state law should reflect the serious nature of these crimes by repeat offenders," Greiner said in a press release at the time.