Don#039;t pass the blame to others

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 9, 2002

On the surface, prosecuting a person for letting another drive drunk is a good idea. But consider the matter a little deeper and it's wrong.

A 40-year-old laborer in New Jersey is on trial because he let his friend drive drunk. The friend, who had a 0.26 blood-alcohol content, killed himself and another person after being allowed behind the wheel of his vehicle.

Attorneys for the state are charging the laborer with both deaths and he could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault by auto.

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We all want drunken drivers off the road. Minnesota's recent law that takes a tougher stance against those with multiple DWIs proves that.

Under the new law that went into effect at the beginning of the month, drivers face three years in prison if they get a fourth or subsequent drunken-driving offense in 10 years. A judge then decides on the length of jail time.

The new felony offense is a big change for Minnesota, where drunken driving has always been a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, punishable by no more than a year in a county jail and a fine. And there wasn't a limit on the offenses, either.

The potential for death and shattered lives by driving drunk is an all too real scenario.

But passing the buck of blame is not the answer.

If this case is won by the state, anyone with any remote connection to a drunken driver may be on trial. We may be our brother's keeper, but we cannot -- and should not be -- his conscience.

The case has changed law in New Jersey: Police may impound the vehicles of drunken drivers for up to 12 hours -- long enough to sober them up a bit. This law makes more sense than prosecuting someone for not assuming responsibility for his brother. Let's keep the blame on the person doing the wrong thing.