Albany to Drunk Drivers: We’ll Go Easy on You

While traffic safety proponents and law enforcers are pushing for measures to clamp down on unlicensed driving, some state legislators want to keep accused drunk drivers on the road.

As reported by On Transport, Senate Bill 3627 and its companion Assembly bill would change existing law that regulates the period between a DWI charge and the processing of a provisional license application by the DMV. Provisional licenses are already available to alleged drunk drivers in cases of "extreme hardship" related to employment, medical appointments and education. The new bill would create a "hardship privilege" that would "allow operation of a noncommercial vehicle in the course of employment for the interim period before a conditional license application can be entertained." The Senate version cleared the transportation committee earlier this month by a party-line vote of 10 to 6, all Republicans against, all Democrats in favor.

"S3627 further softens the penalties for drunk drivers and sends the wrong message," says Kyle Wiswall of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "One reason efforts to reduce DWIs were so successful is the appropriately stiff penalties and potential risk for the driver, including consequences like losing your license by immediate suspension. Backtracking like this is playing with fire."

When asked by Streetsblog if S3627 is as bad as it looks, Bronx vehicular crimes chief Joseph McCormack responded bluntly: "Yes it is."

Surprisingly, S3627 was helped along with a vote from Brooklyn Senator Dan Squadron, co-sponsor and vocal proponent of "Hayley and Diego’s Law," which would establish a new careless driving offense for cases where prosecutors can’t or won’t pursue more serious charges against drivers who injure or kill. That bill would also define pedestrians, cyclists, road workers and others as "vulnerable users" of public thoroughfares.

Without really trying we can think of two New Yorkers who would be alive today were it not for an unlicensed or allegedly drunk driver who was behind the wheel (albeit of a commercial vehicle) while on the job. We have a message in with Squadron’s office regarding his support for the drunk driving loophole.

  • Perhaps someone here that supports this line of thinking could answer me one question: How will not granting a restricted license to drive to and from work save any lives?

    All this ranting and raving about how these evil drunk drivers are getting through loopholes fails to answer that question.

  • By eliminating an important disincentive to driving drunk.

  • ^ answer to how S3627 will end lives.

  • Ok, so you believe this will be an effective deterrent. So, it is your assertion that there will be circumstances where an individual who faces the deterrent of a drunk driving conviction, loss of license, significant fines and attorney fees, alcohol education class attendance requirements, and possible adverse effects obtaining future employment will choose to drive drunk anyway, but after learning that he would not be eligible for a restricted license until trial, would choose not to?

  • Steve Faust

    A drunk driver cannot distinguish between driving sober or drunk, why should they distinguish between driving from work or from a bar?
    How does withholding a restricted license to drive to and from work save any lives?
    1. Drunk drivers have no self control about alcohol. Just a quick stop at the bar or liquor store on the way to or from work won’t harm anyone, and besides, it’s only a work trip? Right?
    Keep them out from behind the wheel until DMV and the judge are sure they are rehabilitated. No automatic passes.
    2. Knowing there are no quick legal outs if you are caught drunk, drivers will think about alternate transport before they drink – it works in Scandinavia.
    3. Why is there a “right” to drive to work, if the driver has violated the terms of the “license” to drive? What’s special about work, if the driver has failed in a critical behavior required for safe driving?
    So what if the driver has to walk, ride a bike, take the bus, pay for a taxi or get a friend to drive them? Why should the rest of the public take the risk that this person will be back drunk behind the wheel? What is magic about the word work that will keep them sober?
    Work is just another four letter word.

    Let’s be clear that drunk driving is not like letting the parking meter run out or forgetting to move the car for alternate side of the street – people get maimed and killed by drunk drivers.
    Drunk driving is something where “zero tolerance” actually makes sense.

  • Alcohol abuse is a problem in the workplace as well, to the tune of one in 11 workers. I agree with Steve Faust, “What is magic about the word work that will keep them sober?” Addicts make poor decisions, including deciding to drink at the workplace. Taking their license away makes sure that nobody else gets hurt because of it.

  • “Ok, so you believe this will be an effective deterrent.”

    Ok, so you believe that it is not a disincentive.

    “…but after learning that he would not be eligible for a restricted license until trial, would choose not to?”

    To test this argument, let’s apply it inductively and make every individual disincentive of drunk driving sound ridiculous, compared to the sum of consequences—obviously the drunks are not factoring in X when they get behind the wheel. When we’re done, we will have decided that no consequences for drunk driving are effective deterrence, and they should all be repealed by the New York State legislature. This is a faulty conclusion.

    Coming at it from the other direction, we know that deterrence works in the large. (Yes?) Incrementally chipping away at the deterrent factors to drunk driving, as is now proposed in the NYS Senate, can be expected to incrementally affect outcomes including roadway crashes, injuries, and deaths. The fact that politicians are even considering “going soft” on drunk driving shows there is pressure from people wishing to avoid this immediate, embarrassing consequence of being charged with drunk driving. We can’t know exactly how important it is in the overall equation without trying it and counting bodies, but to assume that repealing it will have zero effect on behavior is irresponsible, and absurd.

  • Wow, Nathan, that is a lot of hyperbole, but it sure would be nice if it were supported by some data.

    “he fact that politicians are even considering “going soft” on drunk driving shows there is pressure from people wishing to avoid this immediate, embarrassing consequence of being charged with drunk driving.”

    Yes, there is pressure from people that have suffered adverse consequences from the law the way it is now, but you are confusing cause and effect. Having been adversely affected, people are seeking change. You have no way of measuring how many are thinking about this prior to drinking and driving.

    So with your interesting bit of inductive reasoning, you make the curious argument that the different types of penalties one is subjected to are treated equally in the mind of an individual contemplating drinking and driving. Talk about absurd.

    I hear that promulgating pictures of people with both hands severed for petty theft works as an adequate deterrent, so why don’t we consider a similar approach here? I’ll answer this one for you: Because there is an attempt made to ensure that the punishment is commensurate with the crime. Nowhere is that more important than in those cases where due process can be prematurely circumvented. (Yes, I know, due process doesn’t apply to ‘privileges’ such as this.)

    Where is the data that this is a disincentive? I’d love to see some. I’ll leave you with this thought: Drunk driving is against the law. If you have a license to drive, if you don’t have a license to drive, or if you have a restricted license to drive, it is against the law. The individual who makes the decision to drive drunk has already decided to break the law. Do you really think that by telling him it is *more* against the law really matters to him?

  • Hi Steve:

    1. “Drunk drivers have no self control about alcohol.” Everyone who is cited for DWI has no self control about alcohol. How do you justify making this sweeping generalization? “Keep them from behind the wheel.” Wait, since they have no self control about alcohol, what’s going to keep them from getting behind wheel anyway? Nothing, in fact, as arrests for driving with suspended licenses for alcohol related convictions proves.
    2. Who thinks about the potential consequences to driving drunk when they do it? Thinking about it prior is a key part of deterrence, but where is the data that suggests that any sizable portion of individuals do this?
    3. Nothing is absolutely special about work, but it is the loss of transportation to work that has the greatest possible adverse consequences. Your list of alternative transportation is certainly applicable in some places in this country, but the vast majority of this country presents serious impediments to the use of alternative forms of transportation.

    A theme I’ve noticed in yours and Nathan’s response is that you don’t seem to believe that reformation of someone with a DWI is possible. Believe it or not, some people get cited for DWI and learn their lessons, and it is those people who are going to lose their jobs through this law change, not the habitual offenders who couldn’t care less that they’re breaking the law.

    I’ve responded to your points, but I probably shouldn’t have. It’s tacit acknowledgement of your points relation to my original question, which there is none. You haven’t answered the question.

    Until you guys can prove that changing this law will result in changed behavior that saves lives, the pontificating is meaningless. I assert that the people who have no problem breaking the law will break the law anyway, and those that would adhere to a restricted license and be reformed after breaking the law would also continue to do so. Only the latter individual would be at risk of job loss, however, with no change in the total risk to the general public. Thus, the only result of this law change would be to threaten the livelihood of some people; a dubious achievement indeed.

  • “Wow, Nathan, that is a lot of hyperbole, but it sure would be nice if it were supported by some data.”

    Wow, Natenterabbit. I don’t see any citations in your argument either! As you’re the one claiming the repeal of an existing punishment will be 100% harmless (hyperbole, huh) I’d expect to see some evidence of that.

    “you make the curious argument that the different types of penalties one is subjected to are treated equally in the mind of an individual contemplating drinking and driving”

    No one has made the curious argument that these are “treated equally”. I’ve made the obvious argument that they affect the sum of driver behavior in NYS, by degrees, and you have tried to avoid conceding this point by pretending I made a different argument.

    “I hear that promulgating pictures of people with both hands severed for petty theft works as an adequate deterrent, so why don’t we consider a similar approach here?”

    Whether the kind of deterrence under discussion is fair is a question that I would delve into with someone of good temperament…

    “I’ll answer this one for you:”

    … and that is not you.

    “Where is the data that this is a disincentive? I’d love to see some.”

    For my part I’d love to see “the data” in either direction, but it’s lacking.

    If yours is a good way of deciding things, where is the data that any particular punitive aspect of any law is a deterrent? I suppose we should just repeal everything until we are able to establish each element’s deterrent value, according to this convenient view you have adopted for today. I’m not sure why you’re so invested in this topic that you’ll throw intellectual honesty out the window to try to piss off Streetsblog readers. As it happens I do not support unlimited draconian punishments for a BAC measurement of .08 on junky breathalyzers (a technology with serious incentive problems of its own) but you’ve prevented anyone from having that kind discussion, because you are too busy baiting with the absurd claim that lifting a particular hated consequence of drunk driving arrests will have no effect on net deterrence and its outcomes across a population.

    This is where we started, a taunt you refuse to step away from:

    “How will not granting a restricted license to drive to and from work save any lives?”

    I’ve answered that current law is likely to save some lives, compared to the proposed repeal, through its deterrent effect which is unknown in degree. The assumption that the effect is non-zero is more plausible than zero. You feign extreme skepticism here for whatever reason, but as we are talking about changing a law that might result in the loss of life the burden of bringing data is most certainly on you.

    Which isn’t to say that these penalties are fair or well implemented, but no one can have a sensible discussion about it when you’re clinging to your initial overstatement.

  • So, you’re resorting to personal attacks? Not of good temperament? I’d be interested to know how you define temperament, because it seems that you equate good temperament with agreeing with you.

    Frankly, I couldn’t care less whether or not you’re pissed off at what I’m saying. This isn’t personal; it’s about whether the arguments being made here are woefully lopsided and suffering from the same kind of restricted perspective you impugn with the “windshield perspective meme.”

    In any case, I’m sorry if I interrupted your little circle jerk here, but while it may make you feel good, you’re not accomplishing all that much.

    Carry on.

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