Starting next Tuesday, November 1, Oklahomans who drive drunk will face tougher penalties—changes that supporters say will save lives. Sen. Clark Jolley and Rep. Jason Nelson authored the Erin Swezey Act last session, which won overwhelming approval by the legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. The legislation was named for a 20-year-old Oklahoma State University student from Edmond who was killed in 2009 by a drunk driver with numerous DUI arrests and convictions.
“We want people to know that if they choose to drink too much and get behind the wheel, they will face greater consequences. Hopefully that may discourage some people from driving drunk in the first-place,” said Jolley, R-Edmond. “If not, the provisions of the Erin Swezey Act will make it much more difficult for them to drink and drive once they’ve been convicted of DUI.”
As of November 1, an interlock device will be required for 18 months on a first conviction for those with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15 or higher. For a second or subsequent offense, the interlock will be mandatory for those with a BAC of .08 for a period of four years, and for five years on subsequent offenses. Under the new law, those convicted will have the designation “Interlock Required” on the face of their driver licenses as long as they’re required to have an interlock device.
The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office has already begun airing a new Public Service Announcement about interlock devices, which can be viewed on their website (http://ok.gov/ohso/) and will also be working to raise public awareness about the Erin Swezey Act.
“Keeping the public safe on Oklahoma roadways is a top priority for law enforcement,” said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Major Rusty Rhodes. “This law provides stricter rules for DUI offenders and will help us keep impaired drivers off the roads.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, interlock devices are credited with reducing repeat drunk driving offenses by an average of 67 percent, with a 30 percent reduction of alcohol related fatalities. However some states have seen even greater results.
“In Arizona, they’ve cut their fatalities by nearly half. That’s pretty dramatic,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “We’ll never know whose life we’ve saved with this law, but it could be any one of us or our own children or grandchildren.”
Among those attending Thursday’s State Capitol press conference to raise public awareness about the new law were Erin’s parents, Keith and Dixie Swezey, her brothers, and other friends and family members.
“Drunk driving is not a victimless crime. Erin’s life was cut tragically short by a senseless and 100 percent preventable act,” said Keith Swezey. “But if this new law is properly enforced, countless Oklahoma citizens will not have to suffer the tragedy that our family and so many others have gone through.”