IT HAS been too easy for suspected drunken drivers to duck the rap against them by refusing to take blood-alcohol tests. With no physical evidence to confirm that their blood-alcohol levels were above the legal limit of 0.08 percent in Ohio, many suspected drivers have been getting off or pleading guilty to lesser charges.
Hopefully a newly approved Ohio Senate bill will help reverse that trend with added penalties for suspected drunken drivers who refuse to voluntarily take a Breathalyzer test. State Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick was a recent, high-profile example of a driver refusing official breath or chemical tests when arrested.
But the Republican sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Jay Hottinger of Newark, says work on the legislation was well under way before Justice Resnick was pulled over on I-75 South near Cygnet back in January.
Justice Resnick's case simply renewed debate about the need to blunt circumvention of DUI convictions by suspects who refuse to blow into the test that might give prosecutors all the evidence they need.
Refusing to be tested for blood alcohol content is a popular legal way out of such convictions and penalties for more than 20,000 individuals in a given year, complains Senator Hottinger. "Half the people who are suspected of drinking and driving are refusing the test," he said.
His bill, which was overwhelmingly approved and now goes to the House, calls for graduated increases in administrative penalties for accused offenders who refuse to voluntarily take the Breathalyzer test. The stiffer sentences include longer waiting periods before offenders with suspended licenses can request limited driving privileges.
Repeat offenders who continue to refuse tests for blood alcohol content face longer license suspensions and even longer periods before applying for limited operating privileges.
Some may argue that the proposed revisions to Ohio's drunken-driving law harshly penalize suspected drivers opting for the legal cover of test denial.
But others who have lost loved ones to drivers suspected of exceeding the state's legal threshold for blood-alcohol levels but were never tested for solid proof, argue just the opposite. They believe, as do we, that anything the state can do to crack down on those ducking responsibility for drinking and driving - often so erratically as to attract outside attention - should be strongly supported.
The problem of drunken driving, especially with repeat offenders, is a confounding one that needs to be relentlessly examined and addressed for more effective solutions.
When many drivers are still piling up multiple DUI convictions in Ohio, the legal consequences for getting behind the wheel after a few drinks aren't heavy enough to break old habits.
It only takes one driver weaving across a center lane into oncoming traffic to illustrate the deadliness of driving under the influence. Trying to weaken a DUI case by refusing blood-alcohol tests absolutely should carry added legal risks for the accused.
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