Lawmen updated on new seatbelt, DWI laws

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 14, 2009


KENNER — Local law enforcement from across southeast Louisiana gathered at State Police Troop B headquarters in Kenner Monday for an announcement detailing new highway safety laws regarding seatbelt use and penalties related to repeat DWI offenders.

The new laws, which officially go into effect today, are products of the 2009 state legislative session and were drawn up by congressional leaders from LaPlace, Houma and Kaplan, who hope the laws will help reduce the number of fatalities on Louisiana roads.

According to a release from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission (LHSC), the new DWI laws were part of a package proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the DWI-Vehicular Homicide Task Force.

“Drunk driving is the most often committed crime in America, with about 1.4 million people arrested nationwide,” said LHSC director John LeBlanc. “I’m proud that our governor and our legislators have taken positive steps to curb this problem within the state.”

The new measures impose a 15-day jail sentence for anyone caught driving with a suspended license stemming from a previous DWI charge. The sentence jumps to 60 days in incidents involving manslaughter, negligent homicide or vehicular homicide.

“Our aim is to substantially reduce the number of DWI repeat offenders,” said Sen. Reggie Dupre of Houma. “The threat of jail time should encourage them to not make the same mistake twice.

Other new DWI laws include enforcement of a one-year suspension for anyone who refuses to take a blood alcohol concentration test, along with a newly streamlined administrative hearing process for prosecuting DWI suspects. Rep. Jonathan Perry of Kaplan said the law will strengthen DWI enforcement significantly and prevent drivers from “getting off on a technicality.”

The new seatbelt law, proposed by Rep. Nickie Monica of LaPlace, requires the driver and passengers over the age of 13 seated in both the front and rear seats of vehicles to buckle up at all times. The new measure strengthens the previous law that required only front-seat passengers and children to be restrained by seatbelts or car safety seats.

“In 2008, Louisiana drivers had a seatbelt usage rate of 75 percent,” Monica said. “This is too far below the national average of 82 percent. The law will help save lives and also help lower insurance rates in the state.”

According to figures from the LHSC, 449 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in Louisiana in 2008 and those deaths represented 49 percent of all highway deaths statewide. In addition, 22 lives could have been saved in 2007 had the new seat belt law been in place then.

“These new laws further demonstrate the commitment of our state’s leadership to ensure that Louisiana’s highways are safe,” said State Police Col. Mike Edmonson. “We must work together to change the culture in Louisiana that perpetuates unsafe habits like drunk driving and not buckling seatbelts.”

Edmonson said all of the DWI measures go into effect today, but state and local law enforcement are offering some leeway on the seatbelt laws. Drivers stopped by police will be issued a warning for violations until Oct. 1, when the law takes full effect.

Other traffic laws passed during the 2009 session include a measure designed to keep slower drivers from traveling in the left lane of traffic. The new law makes it mandatory for anyone driving on a multi-lane highway in the state to remain in the right lane unless they are passing another motorist. Drivers in the left lane are not allowed to travel slower than drivers in the right lane unless they are preparing to make a left turn at an intersection. There is also a new law that requires motorists passing a bicycle traveling in the same direction to keep at least a 3-foot cushion between the bike and vehicle and one providing more stringent rules regarding window tinting.