House Approves Bill to Improve Prosecution of Repeat Drunk Drivers

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation intended to improve the tools prosecutors have to address repeat drunk drivers was approved Monday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 3146, by state Rep. Mike Sanders, creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record.

“Repeat drunk drivers are often flying under the radar, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and District Attorneys Council,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “These drivers, who warrant felony-level prosecutions under current statute, often receive misdemeanor convictions because their records are incomplete. This is because 354 municipal courts that deal with a large volume of DUI arrests are not ‘courts of record.’ My legislation eliminates that loophole through which repeat drunk drivers are escaping the consequences of their actions. This was a bipartisan bill. I worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to end this black eye on our state. This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. This is an Oklahoma issue.” 

The measure directs the Commissioner of Public Safety to create a statewide impaired driver database with the assistance of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and the 51st (including states and territories) for improvement over the previous 10-year period (NHTSA, 2012).

According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, there are 354 municipal courts that are not “courts of record,” 77 district courts of record and two municipal courts of record in Oklahoma.

Several legislators praised the legislation.

“Drunk driving is one of the biggest threats to Oklahoma families as they drive on our roads,” said state Rep. Biggs, former prosecutor and R-Chickasha. “As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is that we catch repeat drunk drivers and get them off our roads.”

“It is hard to overstate what a victory this is for public safety,” said state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “Thousands of DUIs are falling through the cracks for use in subsequent prosecutions, severely endangering public safety. This idea to stop it has been floating around the Capitol for a while. Congratulations to Representative Sanders for leading the Herculean corroboration that got it past its first hurdle.”

“Repeat drunk drivers are individuals who are dangerous to the rest of us and who are unlikely to reform their ways without intervention,” said state Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso. “We badly need to close this loophole in the system and get these individuals off the road.”

“This is the most significant advancement made in recent history in making our streets and highways safer from drunk or impaired drivers,” said state Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami. “It closes a huge gaping hole in the area of public safety. I hope the Senate and governor will agree. Representative Sanders deserves a lot of credit. This will save lives.”

The legislation was approved by a vote of 82-5 and now proceeds to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration.

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