Tougher penalties could be on the way for extreme DUI convictions

By Ben Gutierrez| April 21, 2021 at 9:51 PM HST – Updated April 22 at 10:51 AM

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – If lawmakers have their way, drivers who get behind the wheel while extremely intoxicated could lose their license for up to six years.

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However, those who have maybe had just one or two drinks will still be able to hit the road.

“Ninety to 100 countries already have a 0.05 blood alcohol level, so the United States is a bit behind in that respect,” said Carol McNamee, founder of the Hawaii Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

A measure to reduce the blood alcohol content threshold for driving under the influence in Hawaii has stalled at the state Legislature. It would have lowered it from the current 0.08 to 0.05, which would be as few as two drinks in an hour.

“The state of Utah has already gone that route and lowered their legal threshold to 0.05, and what they found the following year was a 70% reduction in fatal crashes,” said state Senate Transportation Chair Chris Lee.

Hawaii could have become only the second state with the lower blood alcohol level. MADD is still hopeful it could become law, even if it isn’t this year.

Although the measure to lower blood alcohol content to 0.05 stalled, another bill to crack down on extremely intoxicated drivers is still alive.

“There’s a number of people who are arrested every year who are above 0.15, which is basically more than twice what should be legal,” Lee said.

Senate Bill 765, which is hearing its final vote in the house and senate, would increase penalties for drivers testing for nearly double the legal limit.

After a first offense, they could have their licenses revoked for up to two years. The current penalty is about half that.

A second offense would mean a three-year suspension; three or more extreme DUI’s, and that goes up to six years.

“Believe me, there are people who get very much higher than that,” said McNamee. “Just incredible that they are still able to drive, but there are people out there who need to be identified.”

“When people have blood alcohol concentrations above 0.15, they have had way too much, and anybody who gets behind the wheel at that point clearly knows there’s a risk there,” said Lee.

The deadline on finalizing bills for this year’s legislative session is Friday.

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