Mothers Against Drunk Driving has never wavered from its singular purpose in life — keeping inebriants off the road.

But West Virginia’s drunken driving statutes very well could change next winter, depending on what direction a special interims committee decides to pursue in the months ahead.

Whatever decisions are made, you can bet MADD will get a strong voice in them.

Judiciary Subcommittee C has been assigned the task at taking a long look at DUI laws and whether they need to be retooled. One possibility is that punishment will vary in degrees in sync with the levels of intoxication.

Another suggestion is that “an aggravated DUI” law be penned, one that imposes harsher penalties for those with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher.

Existing law says any motorist blowing at least .08 is considered drunk.

“Everything is on the table,” Donna Hawkins, executive director of MADD in West Virginia, said Wednesday.

“We have not come to any final conclusions about what will or will not be in proposed legislation.”

By “we,” she wasn’t referring to MADD alone.

“MADD is facilitating and bringing together a group of public and private agencies and organizations that will be working in concert with the subcommittee to look at helping the effort to analyze and study DUI laws in the state,” she said.

About 15 such groups have pitched in to volunteer their expertise and help, and members of Subcommittee C and its staff are taking part in the study group’s meetings, she said.

“We realize they have a large task,” she said.

“Their mandate is quite large. With that huge task ahead, we are kind of helping to see what we can narrow it down to issues that really can be put into law for this coming session. MADD has always been for strong penalties, and looking at alternative sentencing, because our primary focus is to stop drunken driving and get drunken drivers off the road.”

A year ago, there were 113 deaths involving DUI-related crashes in West Virginia, she said, and another 2,600 people suffered non-fatal injuries.

“About 16 percent of those injuries were life-threatening,” Hawkins said.

“So it still remains a serious problem. We still have victims. And MADD is a victim service organization. We work with victims. We continue to see that in our victims — trauma. A life is suddenly changed forever in a heartbeat with a DUI crash.”

Last winter, the Legislature raised the fine from $100 to $250 on adults providing alcohol to minors and doubled the minimum prison sentence to two years for DUI causing death.

“Those are small steps, but we’re moving forward in the issues,” Hawkins said.

“We’ve got a lot of support from legislators. There’s a lot of interest in tackling DUI laws. They’re doing a good job of trying to resolve the issues. I feel really good about the Legislature and their responsibilities. We work with many of them from the Beckley area. They’re big supporters.”

The panel meets Sunday to kick off June interims, but word is that it will devote this meeting to another of its tasks — handicapped parking spaces.

— E-mail: mannix@

React to this story:


Trending Video