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The proposed permit would allow four-time offenders to drive under limited circumstances after their vehicles are equipped with breathalyzer ignition devices.
Under Illinois law, anyone convicted of four DUIs loses the right to drive again. Some lawmakers are pushing for passage of House Bill 4206, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-57) and supported by the ISBA, which would allow rehabilitated drivers to apply for a restrictive driving permit. The permit would allow them to drive under limited circumstances and only after their vehicles are equipped with breathalyzer ignition devices.
Those with fewer than four DUIs have that right today. To become eligible, they must convince an administrative hearing officer at the Illinois Secretary of State's office that they no longer drink and that they have a hardship like the need to: (1) get to work to support their family; (2) bring their children to daycare; (3) go to school; or (4) attend medical appointments. And they risk strict punishment, including jail time in some cases, if they are caught driving apart from those four needs.
A similar bill was introduced last year but failed to pass the House. It was a hard sell, perhaps because on first blush, it seems counterintuitive to allow a person with so many DUI convictions back on the road.
But proponents of the bill say it's a good public-policy decision to give rehabilitated DUI convicts who are probably driving anyway a process to become a legitimate safe driver after a hearing officer is assured that the person is rehabilitated, has a real need to drive, and his or her car is equipped with a breath alcohol ignition interlock device. These devices have cameras, so no one else could take the breath test for them.
"We're working with some folks that opposed it on the floor to see if there are things that we can do to alleviate their concerns," Nekritz said. "We want members to have better information about what a restrictive driver's permit means and what hurdles applicants would have to go through to get one."
"I got clobbered" when a similar bill was up for a vote last year, Nekritz said, adding that the bill received just 37 votes in the House. "I think there is just a lot of anxiety about giving someone even a restrictive driver's permit when they've got so many DUIs."
Acknowledging 'the real world'
Chicago-area lawyer Larry Davis, a member of the ISBA's DUI/Traffic Laws and Courts Section Council, is a strong supporter of the bill and helped draft the proposed law. Davis said the four strikes and you're out law, enacted 15 years ago, applies whether the DUI offense was prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony.
"The statute just doesn't take into account the real world," Davis insisted. "Does anyone in the world believe for one moment that these people aren't driving? You have a segment of the population [with DUI convictions] that is always going to drive." Some drivers received their fourth DUI 15 years ago and have completely turned their lives around, Davis said. They should be given an opportunity to have a restrictive permit so they can make a living, he said.
"A lot of these folks are in AA; they are probably a better risk then you or me and they can't drive again. So they want to get to work, they want to support their family. Who thinks for one moment that theses people are staying home? These individuals are forced to drive illegally. It makes much more sense to make sure these people are [driving] legal[ly], to make sure they're insured and have their BAIID devices. It makes much more sense then them driving around [illegitimately]."
Under the proposed law, a person would have to wait five years after the date of revocation or from the date of imprisonment to apply for the permit. According to Davis, the process to get the permit is extremely strict. They must show there is no other means to deal with their hardship, they must have well-documented proof that they've attended AA or other rehabilitation programs consistently, and a counselor in that field has to vouch for their recovery.
"[The requirements are] very tough," Davis said. "It's not like you just walk in and say 'I took some classes.' [The secretary of state's hearing officer] has to make a determination that you're a good risk and that there are no alternative reasonable means for you to get to and from work."
The bill is currently in the House Transportation Vehicles and Safety Committee.