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Clark calls for clarifying drunk driving laws

Posted by Marcia Dick  March 16, 2011 10:02 AM

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Melanie Powell was a 13-year-old girl who was killed in a car accident by a repeat drunk driver. In 2005, the legislature adopted Melanie’s law that amended the Commonwealth’s drunk driving laws to impose harsher penalties on repeat drunk drivers.
 
Melanie’s law established new penalties for repeat drunk drivers, including requiring an ignition interlock device for anyone convicted of two or more drunk driving offenses and increasing suspension for Motor Vehicle Manslaughter from 10 years to 15 years.  The law also created new crimes for loaning a car to someone who is clearly drunk, driving under the influence with a passenger child under 14, and manslaughter caused by drunk driving.  Just three years after its passage, the number of drinking related vehicular fatalities fell to an all time low.
 
The laws in the Commonwealth that deal with impaired driving have been amended 69 times. Melanie’s law increased penalties and also added eight new sections and seven new categories of amendments to an already confusing and redundant statute.  As a result, judges, prosecutors and defense counsel struggle to apply the law. Most experts agree that the content of the law is solid, but the language needs to be re-worked to ensure protections against drunk drivers.
 
In an effort to reorganize the Commonwealth’s OUI laws, I have filed An Act to Protect the Citizens of the Commonwealth from Drunk Drivers. The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association along with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association have endorsed and co-sponsored this legislation. This bill aims to clarify the law without changing the substance.  This legislation maintains the same elements, criminal sentences and penalties, but makes the law much easier to interpret and apply.
 
Each year approximately 13,000 Massachusetts drivers are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. This bill is the next step as we continue our work to keep our roads safe with strong laws against drunk driving. We have an opportunity to provide judges and attorneys with a significantly improved law to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth.

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