"Laura’s Law" Looks to Impact Drunk Driving in North Carolina

High profile drunk driving cases like those involving actress Lindsey Lohan have brought nationwide attention to a problem that has been worrying North Carolina lawmakers for years - how do you both fairly punish drunk drivers for their actions and keep drunk drivers off the road in an effort to reduce drunk driving accidents?

"Laura's Law"

With the recent passage of "Laura's Law," a North Carolina statute that dramatically increases the penalties facing repeat drunk drivers, the state's legislature has shown a desire to keep repeat DWI offenders off the road for as long as possible. "Laura's Law" was passed to honor a teenage Gaston County girl who was killed in 2010 by a drunk driver who had several prior DWI convictions.

This law is a wake-up call to North Carolinians who choose to drink and drive. A subsequent DWI conviction now comes with fines of up to $10,000 and a definite prison term between 24 and 36 months; the law even goes so far as to remove the possibility of an early release for good behavior or time served for other offenses. Laura's Law also includes another provision that repeat DWI offenders must submit to mandatory electronic alcohol monitoring - something that can be accomplished via technology like ignition interlock devices or Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) bracelets.

Portable Alcohol Monitoring Devices

Some portable alcohol monitoring devices - mainly the ignition interlock device - have been in use by law enforcement and probation/parole departments around the country for years. Interlock devices are actually integrated into the engine of any vehicles registered to the repeat DWI offender in need of monitoring. They require the driver of the vehicle to perform a Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer-type breath test that will check for the presence of alcohol on the driver's breath. If none is detected, the engine will start. If, however, any amount above a preset, naturally occurring, level is detected, then the engine will not engage and probation/parole officials will be automatically notified.

Ignition interlock devices have been criticized over the years as not being an effective enough deterrent in preventing drunk driving since crafty offenders found ways to skirt the testing requirements and still drive by borrowing the car of a friend or loved one, or by simply having someone else blow into the interlock device. Newer devices not only require a breath sample before the car starts but also at various times during the ride; if samples aren't given during the ride (or the driver's sample contains too much alcohol), then an alarm will sound in the vehicle and probation or parole officials will be alerted.

Another non-confinement option for monitoring first-time and repeat DWI offenders alike is the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) bracelet. This device - though used in several jurisdictions around the country (North Carolina included) - most people around the country didn't know about until wild-child actress Lindsey Lohan famously wore one as a condition of her probation for a 2007 California DWI conviction.

These devices work by regularly taking samples of the wearer's perspiration, searching for evidence of alcohol. If a predetermined concentration of alcohol is present, the device will notify law enforcement or probation/parole officials. They have been used successfully as a deterrent to drunk driving for several years now, but even they cannot totally prevent repeat DWI offenses.

Drunk Driving Deterrents

If long-term confinement isn't a proven deterrent to prevent DWI-related re-offenses, nor are monitoring or probation, what else can be done to encourage offenders to get their lives in order? Some legal experts hope that changes like Laura's Law to strengthen criminal penalties will help, but those alone likely won't be enough. These same legal minds think that holding drunk drivers financially responsible for the harm they cause - be it property damage, personal injuries or lost lives - through the legal process could be an even stronger deterrent.

Only time will tell if new legislation and a possible uptick in lawsuits filed against drunk drivers and their insurers has an impact on North Carolina's DWI offenders, but if you or a loved one has been injured in a collision with a drunk driver, consult an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.