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The Scarlet & Black

Drunken drivers in Iowa likely to be repeat offenders

By Keli Vitaioli

Last week, the Des Moines Register published an extended article continuing their analysis of drunk driving records in the state of Iowa. The analysis took into account the more than 203,000 Iowa intoxicated driving records from 2005-2016, and uncovered harsh numbers quantifying the real threat repeat drunken drivers pose to the safety of Iowans.

John McCartney’s death on April 4 is a particularly poignant case. The 82 year old was struck and killed in a drunken driving incident by Kurt Shivers, who was later convicted of vehicular homicide while intoxicated. This is not Shivers’ first arrest for Operating While Intoxicated, OWI, — it was his ninth.

The Register’s investigation of Iowa Judicial Branch data shows this is far from uncommon. Nearly one-third of drivers charged with vehicular homicide while intoxicated are repeat offenders. Similarly nearly 20 percent of the 132,000 motorists who had been charged with OWIs were also repeat offenders.

Grinnell’s record with repeat OWI arrests is equally as surprising. Between 2015 and 2016 there were 56 OWI arrests. Of these, 23 arrests, or 41 percent were of drivers who had previously been arrested for an OWI.

This problem with repeated drunken driving has plagued Iowa for years. Complaints on the current OWI legislation range from the sentencing being too short to the rate of license revocation in these cases being too low. The Register’s report found Iowa’s sentencing laws for drivers caught repeatedly drunken driving to be more lenient than other states.

In the case of McCartney’s death, the incident may not have occurred if Shivers had served his full sentence for his eight OWI conviction. Instead, he was released early, and was back on the road in only eight and a half months.

“There comes a point with these repeat offenders where everyone collectively needs to look at this and say this isn’t working,” said Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert on the state of drunken driving in Iowa in an interview with the Des Moines Register. “Whether it’s the courts, the [Department of Transportation] — everybody needs to come to that same conclusion — that the incentives we put in place to not re-offend did not work or are not working.”

Senate Bill 444 is now going before Governor Terry Branstad hopes to re-incentivize refraining from reoffending. The bill introduces 24/7-sobriety legislation. This would require those convicted of OWIs to go through a check-in program where twice daily they would attend a check in facility to ensure their blood alcohol content does not exceed 0.025, and in the case of a failure they would be placed in jail for 24 hours with potential further charges brought against them. Branstad is expected to sign the bill into law.

According to the Des Moines Register analysis including the National Traffic Safety Administration’s studies, the rate of repeat drunken driving is increasing in Iowa.

A 1995 study showed that 21 percent of intoxicated drivers convicted in Iowa during a six-year period were repeat offenders. The national estimate found one-third of drivers arrested or convicted were repeat offenders.

In 2014 Iowa was surpassing the national average with 35 percent being repeat offenders while nationally the average was 30 percent.

The 24/7-sobriety bill aims to create harsher enforcements on drunk driving convictions, with the goal of enforcing drunken driving regulations and increasing road safety in Iowa.

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