Stricter rules imposed on drivers should help

Motorists traveling Louisiana roads take note: new safety laws approved during the last state legislative session are in effect. Bottom line: behave or suffer the consequences.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved four key safety rules, all of which are slated to go into effect this month and next.

A new seat belt law requires the driver and all passengers over the age of 13 – seated in the front or back seats – to buckle up. Before this change, only those riding in the front seat and children were required to be buckled or protected by age-appropriate child restraints.

In addition, three DWI measures are part of the approved package. Aimed at saving lives, the changes came at the suggestion of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, the DWI Vehicular Homicide Task Force and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The first measure, Act 288, was penned by Houma’s own Rep. Damon Baldone. Under the law, drivers who refuse to take a BAC test can have their license suspended for one year. The penalty increases to two years for a second offense.

The most recent figures available – from 2007 – support the need for Baldone’s measure. Nearly 9,000 suspects refused to take a BAC that year.

The second DWI law change was authored by former Houma Sen. Reggie Dupre. It requires an automatic 15 days in jail for those caught driving under a suspended license because of a previous refusal to take a BAC test, for previously taking and failing a BAC test or for being suspended for a DWI or vehicular negligent injury conviction.

The jail time jumps to 60 days for anyone driving under suspension for manslaughter, negligent homicide or vehicular homicide.

The final change streamlines the administrative hearing and legal process by prosecuting DWI suspects.

“Together these measures represent the most sweeping advances in highway safety laws Louisiana has experienced in a number of years,” Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the LHSC, said Monday. “We estimate the rear safety belt law alone could save 22 lives in Louisiana every year.”

In a state plagued by a cavalier attitude toward driving under the influence, the DWI law changes signal a tougher approach toward making our roads safer. And with school back in session, road safety is on everyone’s mind.

We herald the changes, and urge everyone to use common sense before taking to the road. Buckle up, watch for youngsters during school hours and, if you’ve imbibed, select a designated driver to get you and others traveling our roads home safely.