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Driving drunk: Protecting the public

Our continuing series on drunk driving in New Hampshire has been an eye-opener. The good news seems to be that drunk drivers are responsible for a smaller percentage of fatal accidents than in the past. The bad and startling news: The state has a list of more than 14,000 drivers with two or more DWI convictions.

Those people clearly have a problem. Many are alcoholics, and it is incumbent that society address their issue. But their problem should not become the problem of more innocent lives being lost. One of the statistics in our series (which began last Sunday and continues today and Monday, in the Union Leader) was that hard-core (often multiple) offenders are to blame for 70 percent of all DWI-related fatalities.

State Rep. John Tholl has proposed legislation to deal more quickly with those convicted of DWI, mandating full evaluation and treatment within 14 days of conviction. That sounds good.

But the law for repeat offenses needs to be toughened further. It is not until a fourth conviction that it becomes a felony to drink and drive.

Tholl, a former state trooper, argues that, &#';You lock somebody up for whatever period of time, and all you've got is a sober drunk when they're in jail. When they get out, their behavior hasn't changed.&#';

True enough. Treatment is important. But so is getting them removed from society.

&#';To be honest with you,&#'; Tholl told the Sunday News, &#';the people who lose their license, it doesn't stop them from driving. They drive anyway.&#';

Precisely, which is why those who drive after losing their license now get a mandatory seven days in jail the first time and face state prison for the second.

But the problem remains of repeat offenders who wait out their license suspension only to return to the roads to re-offend. Those people need help, but the public needs protection from them.

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