Missouri governor calls for stricter DWI penalties

| Thursday, January 07, 2010

Intent on making Missouri roadways a safer place, one of the major objectives of the 2010 regular session is to come up with reforms to the state’s drunken driving laws.

Gov. Jay Nixon has proposed sweeping changes that would crack down on the worst offenders of Missouri’s driving-while-intoxicated law and enforce better tracking of prior offenses.

“There are simply too many gaps in our current system,” Nixon said. “We must take bold and decisive steps to reform the way DWI cases are dealt with.”

Plans call for taking thousands of drunken driving cases out of municipal courts and having them heard in state courts.

The governor and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are looking to make changes as recent national drunken driving statistics show that more than half of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes blew in excess of 0.15.

Missouri law makes it illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent.

Many states have rules in place targeting “hard core” drunken drivers, and Missouri officials want to add the state to the list.

Nixon’s initiative calls for making it a crime to refuse a blood-alcohol test. Those drivers, repeat DWI offenders, and anyone who registers in excess of 0.15 percent would have to go before a state court and be subject to steeper penalties.

Ignition interlocks would be required for anyone who was over 0.15 percent and found to be driving or who refused to submit to a roadside test.

Currently, refusing a blood-alcohol test can result in one-year suspensions of offenders licenses. But the governor said it is one of the state’s biggest loopholes. He said that many drivers go to municipal court where they are successful in pleading down their charges and avoiding both a DWI charge and suspension of their license.

Also on the agenda is a requirement that local police and courts enter DWI arrest and case information into the Missouri Highway Patrol’s tracking system, which is now voluntary. Failure to comply could result in withheld grant money.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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