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January 15, 2009 3:16 am

Increasing DUI numbers necessitate harsher penalties

Written by Tribune Staff

The number of DUI arrests in Wyoming continues to rise each year. It seems current Wyoming laws, coupled with other preventative measures, still aren't strong enough to dissuade people from driving drunk.

According to a recent Associated Press story, 1,400 people were arrested by the Wyoming Highway Patrol for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2008 — up from 1,000 in 2005. The number of local arrests increased in recent years as well.

A spokesman for the Wyoming Highway Patrol attributes the increase to Wyoming's growing population — and, in the same AP story, the chief of police in Cheyenne (where there was a 46 percent increase in DUI arrests last year) said he thinks the increase occurred because he has more officers on duty on weekend nights. Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers attributes the increase to a greater emphasis on DUI arrests — prompted by state reports, beginning in 2005, that show drunk driving continues to be a major problem in Wyoming.

Whatever the reason, the goal of decreasing the number of drunk drivers on the road simply isn't happening.

House Bill 115, which will be considered in this session of the Wyoming Legislature, would increase DUI penalties across the board — particularly for repeat offenders. Chief Feathers said that's an area of particular concern.

According to Feathers, 35-40 percent of DUI arrests in Park County are what he calls “hard-core drunk drivers” — those with a blood-alcohol content above .15 percent (twice the legal limit or more) and drivers being arrested on a second or subsequent offense.

Other approaches — public awareness, increased law enforcement, public transportation — can only go so far. It's time for our legislators to consider another tactic. If increased penalties for DUIs kept even a few drunks from driving, Wyoming's roads would be safer for everyone.