House approves tougher drunken driving rules

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(Host intro) Inspired by a Swanton teenager’s death last year, the Vermont House has approved a much tougher approach to drunken driving.

The owner of a car could be held responsible if he let an impaired driver use it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Nick Fournier was 19 when he was killed by a drunk driver last November. The other driver, who was traveling the wrong direction on Interstate 89, was a repeat DUI offender.

Fournier’s friends and families descended on the Statehouse earlier this winter to press for stiffer penalties. And the House Judiciary Committee responded.

Ripton Rep. Bill Jewett says one of the most important parts of the bill addresses the legal responsibility of car owner who allows an impaired person to drive their vehicle.

Currently, the owner of a car can be fined but there’s no jail time. This bill calls for a two year sentence if the incident results in a fatality.

Jewett says his committee was motivated by the Fournier case:

(Jewett) "One of the facts is that the driver was driving someone else’s car and we do have a statute which makes it an offense to allow your car to be driven by someone else whose right to drive has been suspended that’s a fine only."

(Kinzel) Swanton Rep. Kathy LaVoie has been leading the effort to pass tougher DUI laws. She says the bill is an important first step in changing the culture surrounding drunk driving:

(LaVoie) “The changes to this bill are not just important to me and to Franklin County but they’re important to the entire state. Many of us believe that multiple DUI offenses and the horrific consequences they can bring is one of the most critical issues facing our state."

(Kinzel) LaVoie, who’s not seeking re-election to her House seat, ultimately hopes that the Legislature will adopt mandatory minimum jail sentences for repeat DUI offenders who are involved in an alcohol related fatal accident:

(LaVoie) “I do hope in the years ahead, in which I will not be a part of this body, that this body will continue to take measures to further deter the actions of those multiple DUI offenses."

(Kinzel) The legislation also calls for a study to determine if Vermont should join with 25 other states to require people with multiple DUI convictions to have an alcohol ignition interlock system installed in their car.

This system requires a driver to breathe into a special device attached to the ignition. It makes it impossible for the person to drive the car if their blood alcohol level is above the legal limit.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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