At least 10 Chicagoans are pulled over on average every night for allegedly driving under the influence. In 2012, nearly 3800 drivers were arrested for DUI of alcohol or drugs. While that number has diminished from a peak of 4300 drivers in 2008, the number of DUI-associated injuries and fatalities are still very high.
Since driving began more than a century ago, Illinois residents arrested for DUI were ordered to not drive for a minimum of 30 days. However, in 2015, Chicagoans made a major philosophical shift in punishing offenders who committed DUI. Following the trend across the United States, any individual arrested in the Chicago metropolitan area for driving under the influence can continue driving if they install specialized breath measuring devices in their cars to diminish the risk of drinking while driving.
Why the Old Penalty System Did Not Work
For decades, anti-driving under the influence activists have defended measures and supported laws that mandated that all first time offenders of a DUI were removed from the roadway for a minimum of 90 days with longer time for repeat arrestees. In addition, there suspended license would begin on the 46th day after their arrest for DUI and handled outside the typical court process. However, many offenders and repeat offenders were able to return to driving much sooner because of lenient plea deals.
The old system was not effective because some had to keep driving to ensure they kept their jobs or take children to school. This means while facing a DUI charge many drivers drove illegally, often without oversight or insurance. Advocacy groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), pushed for an increase use of installing electronic devices as a way to measure the breath and alcohol content of the driver.
Not a Cure-All Solution
Some believe that the installed devices will never be a cure-all of the DUI problem. This is because the devices are unable to detect the use of illegal drugs, which has been a growing concern in the community. However, pairing more stringent oversight with a requirement for drug rehabilitation treatment might provide a way for repeat offenders of drug-related DUIs to prove to the state of Illinois that they can now be trusted to drive safely when behind the wheel.
The new laws involving the installation of breath testing devices for individuals arrested for DUI will likely lower the numbers of highly questionable plea deals where prosecutors nullify lengthy suspensions in lieu of paying lucrative fines. This is because the program de-incentivizes cutting deals as a way to keep their license. Chicago suburb prosecutors will also likely be less inclined to offer a deal now that they know that the individual arrested for a DUI has other ways to drive legally and safely.
This is important because for decades, prosecutors believed that removing the arrested driver’s license served as the biggest deterrent for drinking while driving. However, the unchecked loopholes of making plea bargaining deals typically allowed the driver to keep their license or get it back much sooner than the law allowed.
With unanimous support, the Illinois state legislature removed mandatory suspensions for nearly all arrestees including first and repeat offenders. However, arrested motorists will still need to make applications with the state for a special permit and pay for the installation of the device and monitoring which usually exceed $100 every month.
This step is over and above the July 2013 action by the state government that requires repeat offenders to install cameras in their vehicles as well. The state has been praised nationally for their measures taken to reduce the rate of DUI. Even so, driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is still an obvious problem where most incidences occur between the hours of 11 PM and 4 AM. In the Chicago area, most DUIs occur within the hour after the bars close (1 AM and 2 AM).
While many drunk drivers decades ago were simply slapped on the wrist, avoided a fine and instructed to drive home safely, the times have finally changed. Now city officials and prosecutors in the Chicago metropolitan area have taken effective steps to minimize the injuries, deaths and property damage associated with drinking while driving.