One of the frustrating problems in getting drunken drivers off the road is the chronic repeat offender - the person who keeps driving despite suspended licenses, no insurance and repeated convictions for drunken driving.
There have been celebrated cases in Utah where persons with long records and revoked licenses have been behind the wheels in deadly accidents. In a recent episode, one motorist had his car impounded but was back on the road in a borrowed auto within hours of a drunken driving arrest - and in an accident in which another person was killed.In an effort to crack down on such people, Florida started Operation Roundup in January. The state compiled a list of 200 repeat drunk drivers with at least six DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) convictions to their name. Some on the list had up to 50 DUI arrests. These were people suspected of still driving despite revoked licenses and no insurance.
Highway Patrol troopers in four Florida counties staked out people on the "worst of the worst" list and arrested them if they drove. A month into the program, there were 26 arrests. Unfortunately, judges have tended to be lenient, releasing many of the defendants on little or no bail. Some judges apparently see the charge of driving on a revoked license as little more than an ordinary traffic violation.
However, as publicity about the program increases and judges are looking more deepely into defendants' driving records, penalties are starting to get tougher.
It may take serious jail time to get some of these chronic offenders off the streets. Maryland is introducing a similar crackdown and other states are watching the Florida experiment.
Utah should consider the same approach. Of course, such a method can take considerable law enforcement time from already short-handed agencies. But it might be a good investment.
To make it work, courts must be strict with repeaters who ignore the fact that their driver's license has been revoked. Utah supposedly has some of the nation's toughest laws on drunken driving, but too many offenders still manage to keep driving.