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Ohio State Highway Patrol: Increase OVI penalties

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — According to the personal finance website WalletHub.com, Ohio is the third “most lenient” state when it comes to penalties for OVI or DUI violations, while West Virginia is ranked as the 10th “most strict” with its laws.

WalletHub published the study Thursday. It measures across 15 key metrics, ranging from fines and minimum jail time to “ignition interlock device” requirements. Arizona has the stiffest DUI penalties that include long jail terms, and South Dakota is the most lenient, with no mandatory jail time required. Ohio State Highway Patrol officials believe the Buckeye State needs harsher penalties, while remaining vigilant at combating the problem.

“Drunk driving results in roughly one million arrests, causes 10,000 deaths, and $44 billion in economic damage across the country each year. It was to blame for 29 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in 2015, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” WalletHub Communications Manager Diana Popa said. “There is good news, though. Drunk-driving fatalities dropped by 57 percent from 1982 to 2014, according to the NHTSA, as states have cracked down on the practice. As a result, motor vehicle crashes are no longer among America’s top 10 causes of death.”

According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, there were 1,054 fatal crashes and 1,133 total traffic fatalities in the state in 2016. Drug and/or alcohol intoxication was found to be related to 392 of those fatal crashes and 430 of total traffic fatalities.

According to the study, Ohio has a minimum jail term of three days for a first-time conviction, a minimum 10-day sentence for a second-time offense. An OVI does not become a felony until the fourth offense. The study reported that an old OVI offense within six years factors into penalties, but Ohio law was changed at the beginning of July that an OVI offense remains factored in to the next sentence for 10 years. There is a 90-day suspension on driving privileges in the state of Ohio for an OVI offense.

In West Virginia, there is no minimum sentence for a first-time conviction, but there is a minimum 180-day sentence for being convicted of a second DUI. A DUI becomes a felony on the third offense, an OVI is still factored in even if committed 10 years before, and there is an 180-day suspension of driving privileges.

The study ranked Ohio 35th in criminal penalties and 47th in prevention, while West Virginia was ninth in criminal penalties and 25th in prevention. The two numbers were averaged and compared to all other states to arrive at the final rankings.

Sgt. Joe Weaver of the OSHP St. Clairsville post said the state would benefit from harsher penalties for drunk driving, and that stricter penalties would lead to less offenses.

“We are always looking at statistics and offenders, repeat offenders and looking at tweaking existing laws to make them better,” Weaver said. “Drugged driving is just as big of a problem as alcohol-impaired driving now. We use the federal standard of 0.08 blood alcohol level as illegal, and the state did not have to comply with that. We could have stayed at the 0.10 level. The problem with the drug levels is once we get a law passed concerning levels of a drug, a new drug comes out that we don’t have a law for. Drugs and new forms of drugs are coming out faster than we can amend the laws.”

Weaver said demand for lab analyses for OVI offenses are growing, and crime labs are often back-logged and understaffed.

“It is expensive to hire more chemists and equipment to keep up with the demand for lab reports on drug and alcohol levels,” Weaver said. âItás a battle. And if we send a lab report in, it can take a month or two to get results.”

Weaver said he appreciates groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who keep the need for stiffer penalties for OVI offenses in front of legislators.

“They are on top of it. If they see a judge that has less than average OVI convictions, they are on him,” Weaver said. “They look at officers to make sure they are trained correctly first, and if they are doing things correctly, they hold the judge accountable. We are always training our officers to get better at enforcing OVI laws and collecting evidence. We take it very seriously.”

Weaver said the OSHP uses many methods to keep the public informed about the dangers and penalties of drunk driving. The OSHP often invites state legislators to ride along with them on patrol so they understand the importance of enacting harsher statutes for prevention.

“In Ohio, it is up to the individual judge to require an offender to use the ignition interlock device, but it is mandatory that after a second OVI offense in Ohio that the driver’s vehicle be immobilized. And after the third offense, the vehicle is subject to forfeiture,” Weaver said. “And since we recently changed the look-back on previous offenses to 10 years from six years, there will be more second, third and fourth offense penalties, which is a good thing.”

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