Jacksonville has an alarmingly high number of driving under the influence convictions. Using 2011 as an example, Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles provides there were 33,625 driving under the influence convictions in the state. The Jacksonville area had the third highest number of DUI convictions – 2,222. Only the Tampa area and Miami-Dade had more convictions, with 3,256 and 2,274 respectively.
Factoring in the much larger populations in those cities, it appears Jacksonville has the highest per capita DUI convictions of all large cities in the state. Whether this means we have the highest number of drunk drivers on our roads or whether Jacksonville’s police and state attorneys are simply doing a better job is impossible to know.
This problem is reflected in our news nearly every week. For example, recently, a 21-year-old Jacksonville man was charged with the death of his friend in a crash on Loretto Road in the Mandarin area of Jacksonville. Police say the man was exceeding the speed limit and traveling at 47 to 60 mph in a 30-mph zone on a curve. Wet weather conditions added to the danger.
The car left the roadway and struck a tree. The 22-year-old passenger was ejected and killed and the driver broke an arm and suffered other injuries. Police reported there were containers of alcohol at the scene and said the driver showed signs of impairment and smelled of alcohol. At first, the man admitted he was the driver but later claimed he was not, investigators said.
The driver has been charged charged with vehicular homicide, DUI-manslaughter, and knowingly operating a vehicle with a suspended license. We can only imagine that the grief, remorse and guilt will dwarf this young man’s criminal consequences, no matter how severe they may be.
The driver’s blood alcohol content tested at .23, according to the arrest report. The legal limit to drive in Florida is .08. Intoxication at the level of .23 is associated with a laundry list of deficits including: nausea; blackout; emotional swings; severe motor skill impairment; drastically reduced reaction times; stupor; and loss of consciousness.
A host of laws have been enacted in the state in an effort to reduce drunk driving. Despite these measures, the problem continues. Years ago, the legal limit was reduced from .10 to .08. In addition, fines and sentences have increased dramatically. Due to public pressure, state attorneys are much less likely to agree to a plea arrangement that does not include a conviction for DUI.
Florida law mandates that any driver convicted of a second DUI must have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle. The interlock prevents the car from being started unless the driver successfully blows a breathalizer connected to the engine’s ignition system. A judge may order an interlock installed on a first conviction depending on the circumstances. Perhaps this law be changed to include all first convictions.
Florida also has a “zero tolerance” policy for drivers under 21 who drink alcohol and get behind the wheel. Any driver under 21 who is stopped by police and has a blood alcohol level of .02 or higher will automatically face the suspension of their drivers’ license for six months.
In addition to criminal consequences, drunk drivers face civil liability for wrongful death or injuries. Unlike other debts, claims for injuries or death caused by drunk driving are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.