In August, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill into law that will give law enforcement more power to confirm a driver's state of intoxication and make arrests in the field. New legislation will also increase the penalties for driving a school bus under the influence of alcohol.
Driving under the influence is a serious problem in America. Government studies find that close to one third of all Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetime. About 310,000 people are injured in alcohol-related accidents each year, or one person every two minutes.
Unfortunately, Illinois is not immune from the tragic consequences of drunk driving. In 2002, 51,649 people were arrested for DUI in the state. Illinois' legal blood alcohol concentration limit is .08, and the state's legal drinking age is 21. Unfortunately, this does not stop some teenagers from getting behind the wheel after drinking. Young people ages 18 to 24 represent 15 percent of all licensed drivers in Illinois, but are involved in almost 39 percent of all Illinois drunk driving accidents. In 2002, 32 percent of teen drivers who died in an alcohol-related crash were intoxicated.
These sobering statistics have prompted Illinois lawmakers to give law enforcement and prosecutors more power to gather evidence that proves a driver is intoxicated if they are involved in an accident that causes injury. One House bill, sponsored by Representative Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, and Senator Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, requires officers to perform a chemical test when they have probable cause to suspect a driver is drunk. A chemical test uses blood or urine to determine someone's blood alcohol concentration. Law enforcement only has the power to require a chemical test if the driver is involved in an injury-causing accident.
Another House bill, sponsored by Representative Lisa Dugan, D-Bradley, and Senator Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, increases penalties for school bus drivers who are found to be under the influence while operating a bus. Unanimously passed by both the House and the Senate, the changes include a three-year suspension of the driver's license.
Drunk driving is a serious problem facing America today that puts all road users at risk. Fortunately, Illinois lawmakers have passed legislation that helps appropriately penalize drunk drivers when they injure innocent victims.