New law stiffens repeat DUI penalties

By Matt James

Calling it “one of the best drunk driving packages we’ve ever come up with,” Representative John Countryman, R-DeKalb, Thursday praised legislation recently signed by Gov. James Thompson.

The legislation, which increases penalties for repeat drunk drivers, originally was proposed by Secretary of State Jim Edgar and will take effect Jan. 1.

The law increases the minimum penalty for a second drunk driving conviction from a one-year to a three-year drivers license revocation if the offenses were committed within a 20-year period.

Three-time drunk driving offenders will lose their licenses for at least six years and could receive as many as three years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Countryman, one of the principal co-sponsors of the legislation, said it was not designed to get tough on first-time offenders.

“Habitual people (drunk drivers) don’t care what happens to them the first time around,” Countryman said. “Realistically, in Illinois everyone gets supervision the first time around.”

Edgar also praised Thompson’s signing the legislation. “I commend the bipartisan sponsors of this bill for passing it and Gov. Thompson for signing it.”

e said the new penalties for repeat drunk drivers “will continue to keep Illinois in the national forefront on this important highway safety issue.”

In Illinois there are 27,000 drivers with two DUI’s on their records and 9,000 with three or more DUI convictions.

“It’s not fair that those convicted of endangering human lives by driving drunk again and again should face the same penalties as a first offender,” Edgar said.

“This new law will rectify that injustice by providing a harsher penalty for the more serious offense of repeat drunk driving,” he said.

Countryman said drunk driving laws have become tougher over the years. “People are more aware of drunk driving laws today.”