Once Again, Changes May Be Coming For Illinois DUI Laws

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Under legislation sponsored by Illinois State Representative Kevin Joyce (D-Worth) and Senator Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora), operating a snowmobile or watercraft while intoxicated will have the same consequences as driving an automobile while under the influence of alcohol.
SB 2248 (as amended by House Amendment 1) will subject snowmobile and watercraft operators to the Illinois .
08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit currently applied to motor vehicle drivers in determining intoxication.
Snowmobilers and watercraft operators found guilty of driving while intoxicated will face the same penalties as intoxicated drivers on public roads, including loss of automobile driving privileges, regardless of whether any injuries or accidents occur.
Additionally, the law imposes a zero tolerance policy for riders under 21 years old; if someone under the age of 21 has a BAC register above 0.
00, he or she will lose all driving privileges.
The proposed Illinois law is modeled after a similar Minnesota law.
There are more than 20,000 miles of snowmobile trails in Minnesota; deaths in the state dropped after penalties for drunk snowmobiling and watercraft operation were tied to automobile driver licenses.
Michigan already has a law similar to Minnesota's and likewise experienced a drop in snowmobile deaths after the law's implementation.
Popular TV Anchor's Death Prompts Investigation, Legislation SB 2248, while addressing a longstanding problem, stemmed from a particular snowmobile crash last winter.
CBS 2 morning anchor Randy Salerno was killed when thrown from the back of a snowmobile driven by his friend Scott Hirschey.
Hirschey's BAC tested at .
225, almost three times the legal limit for intoxication; he was charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.
But nothing in the law as it stood then would have stopped Hirschey and other drunk snowmobile operators from continuing to drive upon conviction.
Hirschey, who could have been sentenced to up to 25 years in prison under existing Illinois law prohibiting drunken operation of a snowmobile, reached a plea bargain under which he will serve three years of probation and do 100 hours of community service.
If SB 2248 becomes law, convictions such as Hirschey's will affect automobile driving privileges.
Salerno's death occurred in a year when 24 Illinois residents died in snowmobiling crashes, 50 percent of which involved alcohol, according to CBS 2.
CBS 2 surreptitiously videotaped the drinking culture on snowmobile trails as part of an investigation it conducted after Salerno's death, showing snowmobile operators staggering out of bars and onto their snowmobiles.
Then CBS 2 followed up with an investigation of drunk watercraft piloting.
CBS 2 reported three deaths from drunken piloting of boats in Illinois waters in the first eight months of 2009, and 1,000 drunk boating arrests in the five years preceding the investigation.
Opposition to SB 2248 Clearly no one doubts that decreasing deaths from snowmobiling or boating is a legitimate goal, but not everyone supports the proposed new law.
For example, commercial truck drivers have lodged strong opposition to the law.
These drivers argue that subjecting them to loss of their livelihood for behavior committed off the road is unduly harsh.
Furthermore, some have expressed more general concerns about the ever-increasing scope and penalties of the DUI laws in Illinois.
Illinois DUI laws just changed at the beginning of 2009, providing harsher penalties for people convicted of drunk driving.
Just one year later, the scope of these laws is up for consideration again.
Clearly, the threat of losing one's driving privileges and facing other penalties can be a powerful motivator to decrease drunk driving - but it also can have serious implications for individuals and families in Illinois.
For many people, the inability to drive is tantamount to the inability to work.
This is not just the case for commercial drivers, but anyone who is required to commute a significant distance or anyone who is required to make deliveries or visit clients.
Ultimately, only time will tell whether Illinois legislators are ready to reevaluate the breadth of DUI laws again.
Regardless of what happens in the legislature though, those accused of DUI or any related offenses should be aware of their rights and options.
For more information, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
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