When you get pulled over by police and asked to perform a field sobriety test, the issue of DUI becomes very real to you and affects you directly. However, sometimes it helps to put the topic in a greater context. How has DUI enforcement changed over the years? How does drug DUI now come into play with the legalization of pot in California and other states? Are the current laws and technologies doing a good job in deterring people from making a mistake? If not, what can we do better?
To explore these questions, let’s take a look at some the most significant DUI stories from the past decade—not just high profile cases like celebrity arrests, but stories that help paint a picture of different aspects of the issue—to see what we can learn from them. We’ll start with a recent news story that actually discusses an eye-opening trend over the past decade.
1. DUI Convictions Drop, DUI Dismissals on the Rise
In May of this year, NJ.com reported some interesting statistics regarding New Jersey DUI arrests over the past ten years—namely, that fewer DUI arrests result in convictions and more DUI cases are being dismissed.
Back in 2008, at least 85 percent of DUI arrests in New Jersey resulted in a conviction. By 2017, that number had dropped to 71 percent. Over the same time period, the number of dismissed DUI cases has doubled from 12 percent in 2008 to nearly 24 percent today. Effectively, this data means if you are arrested for DUI, there’s at least a one-in-four to one-in three chance that you’ll get off without a conviction.
The factors driving these trends are varied, but experts tend to concur that one of the biggest reasons for the reduced convictions and increased dismissals is that a larger percentage of DUI arrests are now occurring as a result of illegal drug use rather than alcohol. The presence of drugs in one’s blood stream is more difficult to measure than that of alcohol, and the actual effects of the drugs is more difficult to prove in court. As a result, defendants are better able to cast a “reasonable doubt” on their charges. As for the dismissals, many defendants are entering plea bargains with prosecutors to plead guilty to lesser charges (e.g., reckless driving) in return for having the more difficult-to-prove DUI charges dismissed.
Primary takeaways: While this report doesn’t shed light on whether the actual rates of DUI or increasing or decreasing, it does shine a spotlight on a rather troubling variable now in the mix. A growing number of states have legalized cannabis (including California), and law enforcement expects this new reality to affect the number of drug DUIs. Another contributing factor is the increase in prescription drugs over the years, many of which are known to affect driving ability. These new metrics will no doubt spark fresh discussions on how to prevent drugged driving as well as how to create better technologies to measure these substances.
2. Uber, Lyft and Ignition Interlock
Two years ago, the Washington Post published an insightful and sobering article about ride sharing and ignition interlock devices. The article begins with a Lyft rider being taken aback when her driver stopped to use the breathalyzer on an ignition interlock device—a device intended to prevent intoxicated people from operating the vehicle. His explanation was that this was a borrowed car and that his car was in the shop.
The incident is not an isolated one; the story goes on to say that dozens of times per year, users of platforms like Lyft and Uber report similar instances of drivers using ignition interlocks—a noteworthy fact considering that anyone convicted of a DUI within the past seven years is prohibited from driving for these companies. To add to the confusion, drivers are technically allowed to use other vehicles to perform their services—including those with ignition interlock devices installed—making it quite difficult to determine whether someone using these devices has actually been convicted of DUI.
Primary takeaways: Sometimes a solution to a problem presents more questions to be answered. While ignition interlock devices certainly help keep intoxicated drivers from getting behind the wheel, they are also subject to being tampered with or bypassed—and of course, Lyft and Uber riders are understandably distressed if they see their driver using one. In addition, this report shines a light on the vulnerabilities that still exist within the background check system. Ride sharing companies can’t effectively screen their drivers if DUI convictions don’t make it onto their reports.
3. Parents Making their Kids Use Breathalyzers?
In another eye-opening report about ignition interlock devices, the Detroit Free Press reported back in March about a bill introduced to the Michigan State Senate that would permit parents to install an ignition interlock device in the family car to prevent their teenage kids from driving under the influence. Currently, these devices are primarily used by the judicial system to prevent people convicted of DUI from repeat offenses. As such, the law mandates that each time the device is used, a report is generated and sent to the Secretary of State. If passed, this bill would allow for private use of ignition interlock technology without generating a report.
Primary takeaway: This story reveals a dilemma of sorts: How can private citizens utilize preventative devices without interfering with the accountability systems set in place by the government? Can ignition interlock devices be privately sold and used without creating a loophole that could be exploited by others? Again, the solution to a problem often raises more questions to be answered.
If you have been arrested and/or charged with DUI, whether guilty or not, you need compassionate legal representation to protect your interests. Call our offices today to learn more.