My Turn: Crack down on DUI by enforcing laws

I’ve read in West Hawaii Today about the DUI-related deaths in Hawaii County that have radically increased in the past two years to 28 in 2017 and 31 in 2018. I’m saddened by this increase. Unfortunately, it appears that Aliyah’s Law co-authored by Prosecutor Mitch Roth and myself in 2011 and which became effective in 2012 is no longer being diligently applied. The fatality counts as indicated in the newspaper were:

2012 – 38

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2013 – 25

2014 – 11

2015 – 19

2016 – 10

2017 – 31

2018 – 28

Aliyah’s Law (HCC Section 24-12. Duty of police to enforce traffic laws.) reduced alcohol-related fatalities from a high of 38 in 2012 to only 11 deaths after the first three years due to the hard work of our police officers applying the law. In the past two years, the fatalities have dramatically increased. What has changed?

Aliyah’s Law allows police officers, at their discretion, to have the violator’s vehicle towed and stored at the owner’s expense if they are DUI, driving without license, under 21 and DUI, or using fraudulent plates, tags, or emblems. Police are no longer required to guard the violator’s vehicle while waiting for the tow company. If the vehicle’s owner does not claim the vehicle within 30 days, it is considered abandoned and may be sold as junk. The vehicle’s owner must provide proof of license, registration, and insurance to retrieve their vehicle. I’ve heard that perhaps more than 30 percent of our drivers possess none of these requirements due to previous DUI citations. I don’t know if that is true. No one wants to lose their vehicle but they should not be DUI at any time.

I know the father of Aliyah, the 17-month-old toddler who died when a drunk driver hit their car so hard that Aliyah’s heart was ripped out of its pericardium sac. His wife was severally injured in the wreck and spent many weeks fighting for her life on Oahu. The father sat in my office sobbing and begging me to stop anyone else’s wife or child from being injured or killed by a DUI driver. Mitch Roth and I wrote the legislation to change the law and help police officers to arrest and keep these drunks off our roads before they kill anyone else. (By the way, the offender in that case was a repeat DUI driver.) The law works if it is applied diligently!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “Drivers with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher involved in fatal crashes were 4.5 times more likely to have a prior conviction for DWI than were drivers with no alcohol in their system.” It’s based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts 2016 data: alcohol-impaired driving. U.S. DOT available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812450.

Obviously, we need to do more. I suggest an enhancement to Aliyah’s Law to require (1) mandatory ankle bracelets to monitor the location of DUI violators, (2) mandatory ignition interlocks for all offenders, including first-time offenders, in any vehicle in the household that the violator could possibly drive, (3) that the violator’s pay for these devices for a minimum period of two years, and (4) substantial jail time for circumventing these devices.

Police officers are supposed to apply the current law. I sincerely hope they are doing just that. I ask the County Council members, the mayor, the prosecutor, and the police chief to place on the council agenda a report on how many tows occurred in the past two years, determine why the death rate has increased horrifically, and get additional suggestions on how to lower the fatality rate.

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It’s easy to read the statistics and dismiss them as “It won’t happen to me or my family,” but when you know the family of the person killed, it’s like a knife in your heart. Just imagine how the family feels. Please, council members, help all of us protect our families and children.

Brenda Ford is a resident of Captain Cook.