When are lifetime driving bans appropriate?

Drunk Driver Arrested

On July 14, 2012, 63-year-old Elizabeth Sovis and her husband of 34 years, Edmund Aunger, were biking along a road in Prince Edward Island, Canada while on a cycling vacation from Alberta. They were on their way to the bed and breakfast where they were staying. Aunger’s wife never made it to the B&B. She was struck by a 49-year-old drunk driver (who was found to have a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit of .08). She died in her husband’s arms by the side of the road.

This week, the driver was sentenced after pleading guilty to impaired driving causing death.

According to a news report last Friday, the Crown asked for an 8-year prison sentence along with a lifetime driving ban. The Defence however proposed a 3 to 4-year prison sentence but asked that the driver be allowed to get his license back at some point because he operates a plumbing and heating company.

*In my most sarcastic voice* Oh the hardship!!!

On Tuesday I was very happy to read here that the judge heeded the Crown’s suggestion (somewhat) and sentenced the man to six years in prison and did indeed ban the man from driving for life.

Hallelujah!

In delivering his decision, the judge talked about the man’s four previous impaired driving convictions as aggravating factors in the case given that he had his license suspended four times and that still didn’t stop him from drinking and driving the day he killed the cyclist.

YA THINK!??!

The judge did mentioned the driver’s cooperation with police and immediate guilty plea as mitigating factors (ok…I will give him that…he didn’t drag this family through a lengthy court battle) and acknowledged that the driver battles with alcoholism. That being said, the judge also remarked that although alcoholism is a disease, the driver did exercise his free will and choose to drive while drunk…period!

One of the saddest parts of the story is that in his victim impact statement, Aunger said he partially blames himself for his wife’s death because he was riding ahead of her at the time of the crash when normally he would have been riding behind her.

That is what this man is left to live with. He went on a cycling vacation with his wife of 34 years and returned home grief stricken and full of self-blame.

Who’s serving the life sentence here?

Y’all know I am for harsher prison sentences when it comes to impaired driving causing death. I believe we should have a minimum sentence of 10 years (at least). I am somewhat pleased with the six years since it’s definitely higher than the 3 year sentences we’ve been seeing.

But where I really want to commend the judge is on imposing a lifetime driving ban.

I believe this should also be part of the minimum sentences when a person is convicted of impaired driving causing death. When you get behind the wheel of a vehicle drunk and you take someone’s life, you should never be given a second chance to do it again. Not to mention, since the family has to serve a life sentence of grief, it would be fair, if not a smidge comforting, to know that the perpetrator also has to serve something of a life sentence.

For me, to often people convicted of impaired driving cause death are released from prison after serving next to no real time. And then after completing their programs and parole, they go back to life as usual. Yes, they suffer some consequences but at some point, they can put the entire experience behind them and move forward like it never happened. I mean, depending on the sentence type, they can even apply for a pardon after 3 to 10 years.

It’s not right.

It’s not fair.

It’s certainly not justice.

Driving is a privilege, not a right!

If you choose to drive drunk and you take someone’s life, I believe you should have to feel the consequences of that decisions for the rest of your life. And not just in your heart but to experience a physical hardship for the rest of your life.

My question is, why does there have to be aggravating circumstances? In this case, the lifetime driving ban was due in large part to the escalation factor of the drunk driver’s record with four prior DUIs. Why? Why must a lifetime driving ban only occur when there is a prior record?

Isn’t killing someone aggravating factor enough?

And what strikes me as even sadder still is that it was apparent that this guy was a perpetual drunk driver. And it took someone dying before we got him off the road permanently. What could have been done to ensure it didn’t get to this stage?

What do you think? When are lifetime driving bans appropriate? Are they ever? Should we impose them before a drunk driver escalates to the point of killing someone? I’d love to hear your thoughts?

Although I’ve stated my position pretty firmly, I want you to know that I am open to hearing from the other side of the coin so don’t be shy…if you disagree; you are more than welcome to voice your opinion and know you’ll be respected!

Support MADD Canada and follow them on Facebook, Twitter (@maddcanada), YouTube, and on the Web.

Text MADD to 45678 to donate $5 today. Report impaired drivers – CALL 911.

More blog deliciousness here:

For the month of November and December, I am proud to be taking part in the Holiday Yum Blog Hop where a group of uber bloggers will regale you with recipes and funny cooking stories.

This week’s highlights:

Already Posted:

Stay tuned for:

  • December 10: Kathy Owen’s Butter Spritz Cookies
  • December 14: Ellen M. Gregg’s Old-fashioned Buttermilk Sugar Cookies (with Christmas punch)
  • December 17: I am back with a recipe for Cheesecake that is so simple but even I messed it up once
  • December 19: Jenny Hansen’s Holly Candy
  • December 23: Jess Witkins will entice us with either some comfort food or appetizer
  • December 26: Kathy Owen will come through with beef rib-eye roast with currant jelly brown gravy
  • December 28:  I will give you some fabulous Mocktail options for your New Year’s Eve parties

Be sure to check out our ever uberlicious host, Kathy Owen’s Holiday Yum page and leave her some blog hop luv!

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Comments

  1. Natalie: Once again, you’ve gone above n beyond with the words!! I couldn’t agree more with you. At least he pled guilty, not like the dipstick (I’d like to use harsher,other words but won’t) in my case. It wasn’t until the week after Christmas in 2011 when we found out dipstick was pleading NOT GUILTY – trial was set/took place May 2012. My opinion when they = *dipsticks/door knobs* plea NOT GUILTY, this should be considered another mitigating factor. You asked who is living the life sentence? Well, it’s the family, friends, co-workers who are left behind to pick up what pieces if any, that are living the life sentence. It’s NEVER the dipsticks/door knobs!!!!

    As the saying goes “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”. The people who make a conscious decision to get behind the wheel of a loaded weapon, drunk/impaired (in my situation ~ he stated that he was a daily ‘toker’ but he didn’t that day, ya right!! the drugs/alcohol is still in the system so give me a break!! Yes to a minimum sentence of 10 years (dipstick in my case rec’d 3 yrs in June 2012 n now NP has told me that dipsticks day parole hearing will be Feb., n possibly as early as Jan. 2012 (so another Christmas runined worse then what it already was). And because his full parole date is June 2013, possibility that both day/full will be considered Feb./Jan. Dipstick rec’d 4 yr driving ban, but it would have been 5 had the judge not taken into consideration the yr that dipstick was without his driving priviledges after the crash. They should loose their car, stiffer fines, etc., on their very first driving impaired/drunk charge. But I think we both know that helps some, but it really has to hurt them in the pocket/”where they live”, because there are ppl caught that still drive after they’ve been charged/loose their license.

    So, thanx for allowing me to ‘spit nails’. Keep up the great work!!

    • Sue, you are so right when you say that it’s the family, friends, co-workers etc who are left behind who pay the ultimate price.

      I am so sad to hear that dipstick will be up for parole so soon. I don’t know why we call our system the “criminal justice system” because there doesn’t seem to be any justice for the victims. It’s the one’s left behind who are victimized over and over again. I pray that his parole gets denied!!! Know that you are always in our thoughts…

      I couldn’t agree more, we need to hit them where it hurts if we ever want to see real change start to happen.

      Thanks for commenting and your wonderful support and amazing Facebook post earlier this week.

  2. Hi Natalie. Your comment is timely because late December until New years morning is what many policemen refer to as “amateur hour”. There are millions of people that only drink to excess during the Christmas/New Year season and many of them drive when they do. Perhaps one or two will read your post and make other plans for transportation.

    One detail in your article that I do not altogether agree with is the notion that “driving is a privilege. That may still be true in legal terms but it is sadly no longer true in practical terms for most Canadians and Americans. Unlike in most areas of Europe our public transportation system is very feeble. I Believe that our lack of viable public transportation continues to drive up private automobile mileage, pollution, and drunk driving. This in no was is an excuse for drunk drivers but I do believe that better public transportation would reduce the problem twofold. For one thing most drinkers would have an easy way to get home without driving, additionally jurors would have less reason to be sympathetic about seeing someone banned from driving.

    • Hi Jay. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your comments and support. Here’s hoping that people will read my posts and think twice before getting behind the wheel after a few drinks or letting someone they care about drive impaired.

      I agree, our public transportation system has made it so that driving is a necessity. I also agree that better transportation would likely help judges and jurors make tougher decisions when it comes to sentencing. Not to mention, the impact on the choice to drive when a person lives outside the urban area. I hear ya…here’s hoping our two countries and their cities/towns etc strive to make public transportation something more like the European model.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

  3. Hi, Natalie – Great post as always. Our state has a law of 3 convictions and you are out. The drivers license is gone for good. This applies to all impaired driving and injuries do not have to be involved. I just hate it that we have to wait for someone to be caught 3 times. What if the first time is the one that the individual harms someone else and the impaired driver retains their right to drive? I’m all for longer sentences and taking away the right to drive forever. I don’t believe in second chances in this situation. I haven’t been able to drive since my surgery Oct. 24 and sure it’s a real inconvenience, but I also know I’m not in any shape to drive yet. The reality isn’t what I want for me but I’m taking any chances. Keep up the great advocacy work.

    • Hi Sheri. Thanks for your uber comment and your support. Means a lot to me.

      Although I like the 3 strikes rule because it means that that perpetual impaired drivers will lose their license forever regardless of whether they kill or injure someone…at some point…like you I find it sad that it has to get to get to that point. And what if they do injure or kill someone off the bat??? I realize it’s difficult to make something that has 50 shades of gray black and white but surely there is a better system than what we’ve got?! I agree, I am not quick to hand out second chances when it comes to this. My right to be safe on the road far supersedes someone’s right to drive if they’ve shown they can’t be responsible.

      So glad you aren’t taking any chances and are staying home and healing like you need to. Been thinking about you and hoping all is going well.

  4. I’m all for having licenses taken away permanently. Well before anyone is killed or injured. No three strikes and your out either. MAYBE twice, but you lose driving privileges for six months the first time. Then if you’re caught again…you’re done.

    I’m totally stunned that the guy you wrote about only got six years. After FOUR DUI’s??? Yeah, the laws aren’t there to give justice to the victims and they’re families are they? That’s just wrong in so many ways.

    As for the public transportation issue… I think there’s some merit in that. But one thing I’ve noticed about people who drink and drive – many of them don’t think they’re impaired, and so they have no problem getting into their vehicles and putting themselves…and anyone on the road…at risk. :(

    • I agree completely Kristy. After your second DUI, it should be game over.

      I know…6 years. It’s sad and wrong in so many ways. What’s even sadder still is that this is considered one of the longer sentences for impaired driving causing death…

      You know, I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to people who drive drunk. Most don’t think of themselves as impaired OR they believe they drive just fine drunk. I’ve known people who’ve said they drive BETTER when they are hammered?! How sick is that?! They need to get a grip on reality and ask themselves, if it was my mother, brother, sister, father whose life I was risking, would I do it? The answer should be pretty crystal clear!

  5. Dear Natalie,

    I wanted to thank you for your support and encouraging comments during the year, for visiting my blog regularly and for just being a great person in my life.
    I therefore provided you with an additional STAR for your Blog of the Year 2012 Award!

    http://raaniyork.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/blog-of-the-year-2012-award-stars/

    Thank you so much!!
    Raani

  6. FOUR PREVIOUS CONVICTIONS??? There are no further words. Let’s work these messages even more during this holiday season. Somehow this must end! In my world no one works harder than you and Scott to make this happen. You both are true gifts now and throughout the year. <3

    • I know, eh?! Disgusting!!!!

      I agree Patricia, now more than ever we need to get the messages out that impaired driving will not be tolerated and it is not socially acceptable! Period. Take a bus, call a cab, call a friend/family, stay the night – there is ALWAYS another choice.

      Awwww…thank you so much!! MUAH!!!

  7. You know my thoughts on this whole subject. a lifetime driving ban seems a small price to pay for murder. When are we going to stop the massacre on our streets?

  8. Part of the problem is that taking away their license doesn’t mean they’re going to stop driving! here in st. louis, we had a man who lost his license due to 6 prior DUIs – including 1 with a death involved – do a hit and run and killed a young boy! He was still driving even tho he didn’t have a license!

    I’ve been following this case because I share the same last name of Edmund – tho I’ve never met him or his wife.

    • I agree Mitch – it is a real problem. You can do a lot of things but you can’t physically stop someone from driving a car if they have access to it. In cases such as these, I think vehicle impoundments might be affected. Especially if it’s his wife’s car that’s impounded. She’d likely never let him near another car…and it would help reduce access. But then you may end up punishing people who had nothing to do with the crime?!?! It’s a tough one…

      It’s a multi-faceted problem and there is no “one” solution, that’s for sure. But I do think we need to keep trying, building, changing, growing until we find laws/consequences that do seem to work better than the ones we have now.

      Here’s to seeing a day when there is no such thing as impaired driving!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting – really appreciate it and your point of view.

    • Pete Ontario Canada says:

      I agree with Mitch, today I read about a guy in Newfoundland who was arrested and charged with impaired. This man is under a driving suspension from an impaired charge he got this past June. In total it is his 3rd impaired charge. When will the courts begin giving out severe sentences, the ones currently given are a joke. The guy who killed the lady cyclist he got 6 years and it was his fourth impaired charge, he should have been given the 6 years plus another 5 for each of the other impaired charges he has had because he obviously didn’t learn anything. I would like to see mandatory minimum 5 years jail time, $10,000 fine and lifetime ban on driving just for a first time offence even if there are no injuries simply because these people don’t learn. I am also a victim of a drunk driver. Five years ago I was hit by a drunk and am unable to work, in constant pain and have had epileptic seizures from a head injury received in the crash. I also need help with most chores around the house and if it were not for a loving and caring wife and family I have no idea what my life would be like today, they have helped me a lot, but there are a lot of days I have to deal with depression and anxiety and this will be with me for the rest of my life.

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