CHICAGO — Joining the leading edge of states getting tougher on drunk drivers, Illinois lawmakers are weighing a bill that would permanently revoke the driver's license of a person with four DUI convictions. Dubbed by supporters as "the driver's license death penalty," the bill was passed unanimously by the state's House of Representatives last week and is now in the Senate's hands.
If the legislation is passed, Illinois would join Vermont and Connecticut in taking away a motorist's license for life after four DUI convictions. Drivers in South Carolina and West Virginia will also lose their licenses permanently if they receive multiple DUI convictions, but they all must occur within a 10-year period.
Pennsylvania is considering a measure similar to Illinois' for motorists convicted of three drunk driving offenses, but the bill has stalled in committee. Members are hashing out opponents' concerns that penalties alone won't stop habitual DUI offenders: They also need treatment.
The Illinois measure would also allow authorities to seize a driver's vehicle used during a second DUI offense, if a spouse is not a co-owner of the vehicle. "The loss of your license forever and the loss of your car forever - I think that's about as strong a message as you can send," says state Rep. Timothy Johnson (R), the bill's sponsor.
But the Illinois State Bar Association, a 34,000-member lawyers group, opposes the move. Members maintain that the state already has a strict administrative review hearing process for DUI offenders trying to get their licenses back.
"I think the bill would make [Illinois' DUI law] one of the most unfair and ineffective in the country," says Larry Davis, a Des Plaines lawyer who heads a traffic committee for the group. Without treatment, repeat DUI offenders will continue to drive - regardless of whether they've lost their license permanently, he says.
But others say the law would make habitual drunk drivers think twice about getting behind the wheel. "If you know that if you get that fourth offense you're going to lose your license forever," it would serve as a deterrent, says Brad Fralick of Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Illinois.
The impetus for the Illinois bill was the deaths of two sisters who were killed last year by a repeat drunk driver. "We feel that we owe it to our daughters to try to make some changes ...," says Barbara Esworthy, mother of the girls.