Is California Falling Short in DUI Safety Laws?
California receives federal funding to assist with the construction and maintenance of roads and highways. The Federal Highway Administration imposes a number of requirements on states receiving funding, including a mandate that states have laws and programs in place to combat drunk driving, explains a California car accident lawyer.
According to USA Today, many states are not in compliance with these federal requirements: two-thirds of states are deficient in their DUI laws, including California. The states that are not in compliance will have a portion of their federal highway funds diverted towards DUI programs. California stands to have $70.5 million in state funds diverted. The funds are currently held in reserve as the Federal Highway Administration completes its assessment of state laws.
States not in compliance were notified last January. The notification is important because the standards for compliance were changed this past year. The change came when Congress updated federal highway safety programs and imposed stricter requirements. As such, states with laws in place that were in compliance in the past may no longer be in compliance under the new and tougher rules.
States notified of non-compliance were given a month to provide the federal government with additional information about their DUI laws and regulations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would review their laws and decide whether they fulfilled their obligations.
The Changes to Federal DUI Requirements
The federal government has long imposed mandates on states receiving federal highway funding. These requirements were initially found in an act called the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Under TEA-21, states were required to have the following regulations:
- An open container law, which prohibits anyone inside of a motor vehicle from having an open alcoholic beverage in the car. The law covered all parts of the passenger area, included unlocked glove boxes, and applied to all alcoholic beverages.
- Laws imposing additional penalties on repeat DUI offenders. Penalties must include a minimum license suspension of one year; impounding or immobilization of the driver’s vehicle during the suspension; a method of assessing whether alcohol addiction treatment was necessary and a mandate for appropriate treatment; and a minimum of 30 days community service or five days imprisonment for a second offense and 10 days jail time or 60 days community service for a third offense.
- A law mandating that a blood alcohol content of .08 was the legal limit and that drivers with a BAC above this level would be considered to be driving drunk.
States that did not comply with these and other federal requirements could find that some of their funds were diverted from the general highway construction funding provided by the federal government to be used only on DUI enforcement.
On June 29, 2012, however, the government passed an update to TEA-21. The update is called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21. MAP-21 addresses the adoption of ignition interlock device laws and establishes a discretionary grant program providing additional funds to states with mandatory ignition interlock laws. Ignition interlock devices are essentially BAC tests in the dashboards of cars. Drivers have to blow into the devices before they can start their vehicles.
MAP-21 also addresses minimum penalties for DUI offenders, mandates a comprehensive highway safety plan to discourage drunk driving and provides support for a new technology called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS).
While MAPP-21 is an important piece of legislation that Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports, some states have expressed their frustration with the new requirements imposed and have indicated their disappointment that previously acceptable laws and programs no longer make the grade.
California DUI Laws
California complies with many of the requirements of TEA-21 and MAP-21. For example, the state has a law in place defining .08 as the BAC threshold for drunk driving convictions. For second-time DUI offenses, there is a two-year license suspension (although it can be reduced to one year) and a penalty of ten days to one year in jail. California also has open container laws found in Vehicle Code sections 23221-23229 that apply to both passengers and drivers. However, California falls short in a number of areas as well. For example, among other things, the state does not meet the requirements for impounding vehicles under TEA-21.
The federal government is strict in its requirement that states comply with all TEA-21 laws. With MAP-21 and changes to the enforcement and evaluation standards, more states this year are having some of their funding restricted to use on DUI programs. In California’s case, the requirement could prove beneficial. Drunk driving still remains a leading cause of car accident fatalities, and the state ranks 15th in terms of drunk driving. By strengthening its laws, providing additional education and working to keep the public safe from drunk drivers, California can save lives.
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