The Senate Public Safety Committee gave unanimous approval to a measure that could save lives by strengthening the state’s DUI laws. Senate Bill 529, the “Erin Elizabeth Swezey Act” is authored by Sen. Clark Jolley.
“Right now in Oklahoma, judges have the option of whether or not to require an interlock device in convictions of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence. The man who killed Erin Swezey had numerous driving while suspended, driving while revoked and other DUI convictions on his record. This bill will require judges to make offenders like him have an interlock device on their first conviction,” said Jolley.
Under the bill, anyone convicted of DUI would be required to have an ignition interlock device for two years on their first offense, five years on the second offense, and eight year on all subsequent offenses. In addition, the words “DUI conviction” would be on their driver license during the period the interlock device is required.
On April 4, 2009, 20-year-old Erin Swezey, was hit and killed by a drunk driver whose blood alcohol content (BAC) was more than three times the legal limit. The driver, a 32-year-old metro man, had just rear-ended another car. In an attempt to flee that accident, he turned his vehicle around and began driving over 100 miles per hour on the wrong side of the Kilpatrick Turnpike, hitting Erin’s car head-on. He also died in the collision.
Erin’s parents, Keith and Dixie Swezey attended the committee meeting, and Keith addressed the committee.
“There are fewer DUI deaths in states that have ignition interlock laws. The state of Arizona has had a 40 percent decrease since they passed their driving interlock law,” explained Swezey. “Oklahoma now is only one of seven states where DUI deaths have not gone down in the last ten years. In 2009, more people died in DUI accidents than were murdered in Oklahoma. We need this law.”
Jolley also explained the benefits of having one’s license branded with the DUI conviction notice.
“Officers aren’t required to run someone’s license during every traffic stop. For minor violations, like going a little over the speed limit, they normally just ask to see the license,” said Jolley. “By having that notice on the license, officers would know instantly that the person must have an interlock device in their car and if they didn’t, it would be an automatic violation.”
Jolley went on to say that it would also help provide notice to employers, rental car businesses and other who do not have the ability to do the national background search that is available to law enforcement officers. Requiring businesses to run national background checks on their employees would be an unnecessary financial burden, Jolley explained, when that information could simply be put on an individual’s license for businesses to check.
“I want to thank Keith and Dixie Swezey. They are sharing a very tragic day in their life but their belief is that this will save hundreds of lives every year like Erin’s. I want to thank them for their courage and their willingness to do this,” said Jolley.
SB 529 will next be heard by the full Senate.