Illinois Governor George Ryan calls on lawmakers to reform drunken driving penalties

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) — Gov. George Ryan said judges and lawmakers should consider more stringent measures to curb repeat drunken driving in Illinois.

His ideas range from making treatment or counseling a mandatory sentence for those convicted of driving under the influence to revamping laws that allow first-time offenders to wipe their records clean.

Ryan responded to a statewide study by the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald that found that more than 160 people had at least five DUI convictions between 1996 and 1999. Almost 5,400 people had two or more DUI convictions in that period. And more than 185,000 drivers have logged more than one conviction or court action since record keeping began.

As secretary of state, Ryan successfully lobbied lawmakers to lower Illinois’ blood-alcohol limit for DUI convictions from .10 to .08. But he said he is outraged at the court system’s treatment of multiple offenders.

“They walk out of the courthouse after seeing the judge, get in their car and drive away,” Ryan said. “The judge ought to ask him, ‘How’d you get here today? How are you leaving here today?’ and ‘Who’s driving?”

Ryan suggested lawmakers rethink court supervision — a finding of guilt that is not treated as a conviction by the legal system and that is kept off public driving records — for DUI offenders. Anti-drunken driving activists want to abolish supervision for DUI offenders, but some lawyers believe supervisions deter some first-time offenders from driving drunk again.

Patrick McGann, the supervising judge for the Chicago Traffic Center, said jail time should be a part of the conditions of supervision. But he said probation and alcohol intervention efforts outside of jail should be used more often in dealing with repeat drunken drivers.

The Daily Herald also found that a group of 10 of the worst repeat drunken drivers habitually drove without valid licenses. McGann said lawmakers should consider holding auto salespeople liable for selling cars to drivers with bad records in much the same way some governments are considering holding weapons dealers liable for selling guns to criminals.

“This is a societal issue, and all of us have to get involved,” McGann said.

A new program that includes extensive drug and psychological testing as well as a more thorough examination of DUI offenders’ records was beginning Monday for offenders within the city, McGann said.