So how does a driver with eight prior alcohol-related driving convictions still get a license? Maybe we should ask 54-year-old Kenneth Conner of Schenectady, who got pulled over by Rotterdam police Wednesday night and charged with — guess what? — a ninth DWI. But it would probably make more sense to ask Schenectady County prosecutors, judges and New York state lawmakers who have let Conner, and other habitual DWI offenders like him, off with minimal sentences over and over again.
For example, the last time Conner got popped, five years ago, all he got was a $500 fine, five days in jail and his license revoked. Hard to believe, considering it was his eighth offense in 34 years!
This time, his blood alcohol level was reportedly 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit. So much for the Drinking Driver Program he completed after his 2007 conviction, allowing him to get his license back two years ago.
Thanks to a long-overdue executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month, people like Conner will face permanent license revocation either after just three alcohol-related convictions plus one serious driving offense (like a fatal accident or a pair of five-point driving convictions), or five alcohol- or drug-related convictions. It’s not quite as tough as the “three strikes, you’re out” law proposed last winter by Sen. Hugh Farley and Assemblyman James Tedisco, but it will do — as long as the state and local prosecutors are serious about enforcing it.
Though they’ve gotten better in that respect lately, it’s clear there’s still room for improvement. For example, the Buffalo News reported Oct. 13 that the provision of 2010’s Leandra’s Law requiring motorists convicted of DWI to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle has been circumvented by two out of three such motorists. Some motorists have simply stopped driving, but others have used loopholes like transferring ownership of their vehicle to a friend or relative to get around the requirement. The state needs to address these loopholes immediately.
The state claims Cuomo’s executive order will take an estimated 20,000 habitual offenders off the road this year, which assumes they won’t drive if they can’t get their licenses back after a conviction. But first they’ll have to drive drunk and be arrested; then they’ll have to abide by the law and not drive without a license. The best way to ensure compliance is for local prosecutors and judges to demonstrate that violators will get serious prison time.
For the state’s part, the DMV should send out letters warning the estimated 50,000 motorists with three or more alcohol-related convictions that they’re being watched, and one more strike and they’ll be out for life.