A Tulare County, California, man was recently convicted of his 11th DUI, underscoring why lawmakers recently tightened up the sentencing and penalty guidelines for repeat DUI offenders within the state. Police say the man, Steven Elms, a 44-year-old from Tulare County, was traveling at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour and swerving when he was pulled over on Road 256 between Porterville and Terra Bella back in May of 2018. Tulare County announced his conviction this past week on felony DUI. The man had a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.15 percent at the time of his arrest.
Sentencing in Elms’ case is scheduled for February 7, 2019. He faces a maximum of 5 years and 4 months in state prison. Elms pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges prior to his trial, including failure to utilize his ignition interlock device and driving with a suspended driver’s license.
California passed legislation this past year that requires repeat DUI offenders to have their cars fitted with ignition interlock devices that only allow their cars to operate if they first blow into the device’s breathalyzer to prove they have not been drinking. The new law is hoped to reduce the number of DUIs on California’s streets and highways.
DUI is not a problem limited to just California. Across the nation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 30 people died in drunk-driving-related crashes in 2017; that’s roughly one person killed every 48 minutes. Although drunk driving has decreased in the past thirty years, the NHTSA reports that it still causes more than 10,000 deaths per year and racks up damages to the tune of $44 billion. One-third of all motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. involve drunk drivers with BAC levels of 0.08 or more. It is illegal in all states to drive with a BAC of this level, although drivers with lower blood alcohol concentrations experience predictable effects that can result in impaired driving.
For example, according to the NHTSA, at just a BAC of 0.02, drivers experience a decline in visual functions, including the rapid tracking of moving targets, and they are less able to perform two tasks simultaneously, which is a skill drivers need. At 0.05 BAC, drivers experience reduced coordination, difficulty steering and reduced response to emergency-type driving situations. They may lose small muscle control, including the ability to focus the eyes, and their reaction time is lowered along with alertness and inhibition.
With an 0.08 BAC, drivers experience poor muscle coordination, including poor balance, vision, speech, hearing and reaction time. It becomes harder for them to detect danger and to make good judgements and to reason. Perception becomes impaired, and information processing is reduced, including the ability to detects signals and to do visual searches with the eyes.