Inquirer Editorial: Keep drunks off the roads

The parents of the victim of a habitual drunken driver after a news conference last week.
The parents of the victim of a habitual drunken driver after a news conference last week. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff)
Posted: April 22, 2014

Like too many other motorists, Robert Landis didn't let a conviction for drunken driving keep him from drinking and getting behind the wheel again. For three decades, he did it with shocking regularity - until last spring, when he rammed his truck into a motorcyclist, killing him.

Landis' admission of guilt has landed him a lengthy jail term that should keep the West Chester man off the road for many years to come. But the case against what one prosecutor called Chester County's worst drunken driver hardly stands as a victory. It's more of an indictment, which is why the county's district attorney wants the state to hike the minimum jail term for repeat drunken drivers who cause highway deaths.

The proposal by top prosecutor Thomas Hogan to boost the current three-year minimum sentence to seven years has drawn the interest of State Sen. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery), a leader on drunken-driving prevention. Too bad it takes deaths of victims like Liam Crowley, 24, the volunteer fireman killed in the crash with Landis' Dodge Ram 2500, to generate action. A comprehensive strategy is needed to target first-time drunken drivers before they become habitual offenders.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving favors a smart, two-pronged approach. Along with promoting more sobriety checkpoints, MADD has mounted an increasingly successful campaign to add to the more than 20 states that currently require ignition-interlock devices on every convicted drunken driver's vehicle. Wider use of these Breathalyzer-like sobriety-enforcing devices holds out the best hope of saving more of the 10,000 lives lost annually to drinking and driving.

Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey has enacted MADD's across-the-board requirement of this type of device. It's long past time for them to do so. In Harrisburg, a Rafferty proposal would accomplish that. And in Trenton, State Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari (D., Union) is leading efforts to enact a similar safety effort.

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