Boston Herald Panics That People Have Been Driving Without Incident

The Boston Herald has a splashy story about how nearly 1000 people in Massachusetts have legal driver’s licenses right now, yet have been convicted of 5 or more DUI charges. Outrageous!

Except, what it actually means is that these individuals have been on the road, driving legally, and have not been convicted of any drunk driving charge in 10 years

This is simply not a huge public safety menace as is being implied in the news story. While there are statistics that suggest that some people with alcohol addiction problems certainly do continue to drink and drive, there are also plenty of statistics that say people who do not get in trouble with the law after 5 or 10 years are very unlikely to re-offend.

And even if this was a scandalous situation as suggested, the laws have already been changed. Drunk driving laws in Massachusetts and nationwide are exponentially tougher now then they were in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, when most of these drivers actually were convicted.

Under current law, if any of these driver’s is arrested, they will be in very serious trouble. Just refusing the breath test with 5 prior convictions means the person’s license will be revoked permanently. And such a person will likely face a dangerousness hearing, and at risk for prison for felony DUI.

How Can You Have a Driver’s License after a 5th Offense DUI if the Penalty is a Lifetime Suspension?

That is a valid question. It is true that the penalty for a 5th offense DUI in Massachusetts is a mandatory minimum penalty of 2 years in prison and a lifetime license revocation. It is a serious felony offense, and treated as such.

Before 2002, the lookback period for prior drunk driving offenses was 10 years, and anything older than that didn’t count. So the reality is, many, if not most of these prior convictions are many decades old.

The Registry is correct that the number of people with 5 OUI convictions and a valid driver’s license can never get any larger. It is impossible to have 5 or more convictions and have a valid driver’s license now that the lifetime lookback is in effect. These 1000 people will eventually die off, and yes, some may be charged and convicted of drunk driving again, and lose their driver’s licenses forever, as well as spend a couple of years as guests of the Commonwealth.

There is literally no need to add tougher drunk driving laws to address this problem. Senator Hedlund and others are interested in using stories like this to increase support for mandatory ignition interlock devices for any OUI conviction, but besides being a bad idea, and a burden on the vast majority of people who get a single DUI charge and never get in trouble again, it would have literally no effect on the alleged “problem” exposed in this sensationalist story.

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