Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two bills that are intended to improve safety on Louisiana roadways by stiffening the penalties for drunk drivers.
According to state figures, half of Louisiana’s 815 highway deaths in 2008 were alcohol-related. In hopes of reducing that amount, lawmakers approved changes that include mandating jail time for driving with a license suspended for a previous offense of driving while intoxicated.
Previously SB166, the new law calls for people caught driving with a suspended license after a DWI conviction to serve at least 15 days in jail. The sentencing judge could impose a sentence of up to six months behind bars.
If the license has been suspended for a death related to a DWI, a mandatory 60-day jail sentence is required, with a maximum of six months.
Another bill signed by Jindal – HB445 – requires the loss of a driver’s license if the offender refuses to submit to a breathalyzer.
The governor said the change is needed because Louisiana has one of the highest rates of refusal to submit to a breathalyzer in the nation. The national average for refusal of the test is 22 percent, but in Louisiana it is 39 percent.
The new rule doubles the first refusal penalty from a six-month to a one-year suspension. Subsequent offenses within five years of the first would result in a two-year suspension – up from 18 months.
“Hardship licenses” are allowed for people who are not involved in wrecks that result in serious injury or death. They would be permitted to drive from work, school and church only.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Louisiana in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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