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Michigan Toughens Drunk Driving Penalties

Beginning in November, there will be two kinds of drunk driving in Michigan. "Standard" drunk drivers are those with a blood alcohol content of .08 to .16 percent. If your blood alcohol content exceeds that, you will be given a new term: "super" drunk driver. Despite the rather bizarre terminology, the distinction between standard and super in Michigan is nothing to laugh about.

The official title of the legislation is the High Blood Alcohol Content Enhanced Penalty Law. The new law also comes with much stiffer penalties. Local defense attorneys predict that fines and court costs could exceed $10,000 in some cases. Possible jail time is doubled, alcohol treatment is mandatory, and driving privileges are revoked for 45 days.

But probably the most interesting penalty is the use of an ignition interlock on the driver's car. The interlock is basically an in-car breathalyzer. After driving privileges are returned, any person convicted of this law has to pay to have an ignition interlock installed in their vehicle. They also have to pay $100 per month to maintain the device. To start their car, they have to breathe into a device that measures their blood alcohol content. If their blood alcohol content (BAC) is too high, the car will not start.

Think a blood alcohol content of .17 could never happen to you? Think again. Almost one-third of suspected drunk drivers in Michigan test at or in excess of that level.

Not surprisingly, the law has drawn criticism from several quarters. A representative of Michigan's Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) called the law "disappointing" because a tougher limit of .15 was not used. Others doubt that law will achieve its intended purpose: lowering the number of drunk drivers in Michigan. Several city prosecutors expressed their doubt that the law would change driver behavior. However, some states, such as New Mexico, have seen a drop in alcohol-related accidents since passing similar laws. Most attorneys have taken a wait-and-see approach to the new law.

One thing not in doubt is that the stakes for driving drunk have increased. If you are arrested on an alcohol-related charge, make sure you consult with a competent DUI attorney.