Headway in drunken-driving fight

The heavy blitz of media attention accorded in recent months to the dangers of drinking and driving may be showing some results, Monitor correspondent Lucia Mouat reports.

In addition to the growth of citizen groups, Vincent Tofany, president of the National Safety Council, points to the beefing up of enforcement and penalties in many states as a result of the media attention. And he notes that so far this year the number of highway fatalities - about half related to alcohol - is down 13 percent.

Mr. Tofany says the sharpest decline in fatalities has been in the states that have toughened their drunk-driving laws.

The President's Commission on Drunk Driving is expected to issue an interim report either during or soon after National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week, Dec. 12-18. Mr. Tofany, a member of the commission, says its recommendations may include license suspension for first drunk-driving offenses. ''That's the direction we feel will have the most effective result,'' he says. And Mr. Tofany says commission recommendations may also encourage the use of more state and local roadblocks to randomly check motorists for sobriety.

The commission is also expected to come down hard against the common practice of plea bargaining in drunk-driving cases in which only a lesser charge such as a traffic violation shows up on the driver's record.

''The solution is to eliminate plea bargaining,'' Mr. Tofany says. ''One thing (citizen) groups have been doing is to zero in on that practice. They sit in the courtroom and they look up records.''

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