Through September 7, 2015, local law enforcement officers will be joining the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign. Labor Day weekend brings an increase in highway travel, so law enforcement officers will be increasing OVI enforcement efforts on the lookout for impaired drivers. These days it’s not as simple as “don’t drink and drive,” as OVI encompasses alcohol as well as drug impairment.
In the first eight months of 2015, more than 90 OVI cases were filed in Champaign County Municipal Court. That’s compared to 122 for the same time period last year, and 161 in 2013. To date, only two of those OVI cases went all the way to trial and both defendants were convicted.
According to NHTSA, approximately one-third of all crash fatalities involve drunk drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (“BAC”) of .08 of higher. In 2013, 10,076 people were killed and of those, 65 percent were the drunk drivers themselves. In every state, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher, yet one person is killed in a drunk-driving crash every 48 minutes in the United States.
Even if there’s no crash, the financial impact alone is staggering in OVI cases. In Ohio, the mandatory minimum sentence is three days in jail and a mandatory minimum fine of $375 plus court costs, on a first offense, and it goes up exponentially from there. In addition, license suspension for at least six months is mandatory. If the charge involves a crash with injuries or death to a passenger or non-impaired motorist, additional charges of vehicular assault and vehicular homicide may result in substantial jail or prison time as well.
Unfortunately, many OVI cases involve someone who makes a bad decision, just once, then pays those consequences without much more in the way of future legal trouble. However, there are a total of 30 individuals from Champaign County listed on the habitual offender registry maintained by the state. Police and prosecutors can only do so much to protect the public from impaired drivers. It is up to the community to take a stand against OVI, not just during national enforcement and awareness campaigns, but every single day.
Breanne Parcels is the Champaign County Municipal Prosecutor and is a former Urbana Daily Citizen reporter. For more information, visit www.nhtsa.gov, www.publicsafety.ohio.gov/links/HSY7747.pdf and ext.dps.state.oh.us/omvi/.