Proposed Pennsylvania DUI Legislation ‘Deana’s Law’ Impacted by COVID-19

Deana Eckman's Family

The Fight for Mandated Alcohol Monitoring Continues into 2021


Rich and Roseann DeRosa’s daughter, Deana Eckman, was killed by a repeat DUI offender on February 16, 2019, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Since that time, they have been working tirelessly to prevent other families from having to face the anguish of losing a loved one to drunk driving. Unfortunately, like so many other things in 2020, this mission was sidelined by COVID-19.

Struck Down by a Repeat Drunk Driver

Authorities report that at the time of the crash that killed Deana, the 30-year-old driver, David Strowhouer, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.199—more than double the legal definition of impaired driving. He was speeding along at nearly 80 miles per hour when he crossed a double yellow line and struck Eckman, 45, and her husband, Chris, head-on.

Beyond the heartbreak of the loss itself came the realization that this was not Strowhouer’s first brush with the law. In fact, Strowhouer had accumulated five previous DUIs in less than 10 years prior to crashing into the Eckmans. This is why Deana’s Law is focused on addressing the issue of repeat DUI offenders.

Deana Eckman

‘Deana’s Law’: Designed to Mandate Alcohol Monitoring

Since their daughter’s death, the DeRosas have learned more about Pennsylvania DUI statutes and sentencing guidelines than any parent would ever want. With the help of now-former Senator Tom Killion, they introduced and almost passed Deana’s Law (SB773), which would have increased sanctions for repeat DUI offenders. The bill’s intent was to increase jail time for some repeat DUI offenders, as well as require continuous alcohol monitoring as a condition of bail, probation, and parole. 

Deana’s Law was set for final passage on November 20, 2020, when the House of Representatives was informed of a COVID-19 outbreak. This news required the House to end session early and cancel future session days. Deana’s law was literally on the one-yard line when it fell victim to the pandemic.

As the DeRosa’s can attest, the most dangerous drivers on the road are high-risk, repeat impaired drivers. They pose a higher crash risk; they are disproportionately involved in fatal crashes. Yet they often elude accountability. In 2010, researchers analyzed more than 100 million Maryland driving records from 1973 to 2004 and found:

  • The odds of a 1st time DUI offender repeating to a 2nd offense (crash or arrest) is 24%
  • The odds of a 2nd time DUI offender repeating to a 3rd offense (crash or arrest) is 36%
  • The odds of a 3rd time DUI offender repeating to a 4th offense (crash or arrest) is 51%

The Future of this Critical DUI Legislation

Deana’s parents will not rest until Deana’s Law is passed. They are working with a consortium of supporters to draft a new–but similar–bill, which will include:

  • Requiring the installation of an ignition interlock device for two years for DUI 3+
  • Mandating consecutive sentences for DUI 4+
  • Establishing a substance monitoring program

The DeRosa family is hoping that the bill will be introduced in early 2021. Since most lawmakers in Pennsylvania are already familiar with and supportive of Deana’s Law, they hope it passes quickly.

If you reside in Pennsylvania and want to help support Deana’s Law, please contact Mindy Huddleston at mhuddleston@scramsystems.com.


Sobering Up

U.S. Cities with the Highest DUI Rates

With an increase in travel, amplified holiday-related stress, and a variety of opportunities for celebration, December is an especially dangerous time on U.S. roadsInsurify, a website that compares auto insurance quotes, used statewide data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) combined with data from over 2.5 million car insurance applicants to identify the cities with the highest number of DUIs per 1,000 drivers.

DUI Trends Nationally

At the top of the list is Gillette, Wy, where according to the report over 68 of every 1,000 drivers has a DUI on their record. The Midwest, Northwest, and Southwest regions of the U.S. topped the list overall, and no east coast cities made the rankings. California and Colorado are tied for having the most cities on the list. Those states had four cities that made the list, and both were also in the top 10 states with the highest DUI rates.

Additional insights:

  • Across the U.S. cities surveyed, the average DUI rate is 17.07 DUIs per 1,000 drivers
  • The average DUI rate on the state level is 5.49 DUIs per 1,000
  • While East Coast cities didn’t make the list, NHTSA statistics from 2018 show that some of the states with particularly high numbers of fatal drunk driving-related crashes were Florida (814), North Carolina (421), and Georgia (375)
Cities with the most DUIs

Drinking and Driving Often isn’t ‘One and Done’

One-third of all drivers arrested for drunk driving have prior offenses, and the chances of an individual being involved in an alcohol-related car crash or a repeat drunk driving arrest increases with each prior offense. This according to one of two e-books by SCRAM Systems, titled Reducing the Danger: How Technology and Criteria-Based Programs Tackle Repeat Alcohol Offenses. The book outlines how a number of jurisdictions have created programs specifically designed to combat repeat alcohol-involved crime. These programs work to address the root cause of drunk driving—alcohol misuse, abuse, and addiction—by successfully support long-term behavior change and better outcomes through collaboration between law enforcement, judges, specialty courts, and probation/parole.

December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month

Whether they appear on this list or not, alcohol offenses are a wide-spread issue for communities across the U.S. For those in recovery, the holidays can be a particularly challenging time to remain clean and sober. December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, and many resources exist to share vital information, raise awareness, and help save lives during this crucial time.


Sobering Up

Survey Reveals Gaps in Knowledge about DUIs

Survey Gaps in Knowledge of DUIs

The problem of drinking and driving has been an issue for as long as the two activities have existed. The emergence of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (founded in 1980) and SCRAM Systems (founded in 1997) demonstrate the recognized need for society to tackle this problem head-on. However, according to a recent study from iprospectcheck.com, a surprising number of drivers are not even aware that driving under the influence is a criminal offense.

DUI Misinformation

According to the survey, some states had rates as shocking as 56% (North Dakota), and others as low as 8% (Wyoming) of drivers who wrongly believe that driving under the influence is NOT a criminal offense. However, based on the 3,220 drivers surveyed, most states had an average of around 18-20% who held this inaccurate perception. Other critical stats revealed by this survey include:

  • 15% of drivers admit having knowingly driven above the legal limit
  • 1/4 of drivers believe using a cell phone is worse than driving under the influence
  • 1 in 5 drivers are unaware what the legal alcohol limit to drive is in their state

The Impacts of Drinking and Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 30 people in the United States die every day in drunk driving crashes — that’s one person every 50 minutes. While these numbers have declined over the last three decades, drunk driving is still the number one cause of death on our roadways, with crashes claiming more than 10,000 lives per year and costing about $ 44 billion annually. 

Solutions to Prevent Alcohol-Involved Crashes

Organizations like Responsibility.org make it their mission to share resources that can save lives. This site provides guides for how to discuss drinking with kids as young as elementary school age, and drunk driving resources for a variety of audiences such as policymakers and law enforcement officials.

Reducing drunk and impaired driving requires the combined efforts of courts, agencies, lawmakers, and the implementation of innovative state and county DUI programs to tackle the issue. The most successful drunk and impaired driving reduction strategies leverage technology in conjunction with court-ordered participation in alcohol programs. Requiring offenders to abstain from alcohol and be subject to continuous alcohol monitoring is proven to be effective in reducing drunk driving recidivism.

Undoubtedly, the first step of the process is ensuring that all drivers are aware that drinking and driving is a criminal offense with potentially dire consequences.


Sobering Up

National Recovery Month 2020: Celebrating Connections

For the last 31 years, September has been deemed National Recovery Month. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), embraces this month is an opportunity to celebrate the gains made by those in recovery. According to facesandvoicesofrecovery.org, the goal is to “promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation to make recovery in all its forms possible.”

Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections

The theme for 2020 National Recovery Month was Join the Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections. Throughout the month, NADCP provided video messages of encouragement from celebrities who have a personal recovery story of their own. The Thank You Fridays messages featured actors Allison Janney, Marlee Matlin, Michael O’Neill, Taye Diggs, and Mary McCormack, as well as comedian Dion Flynn who spoke about the subtle messages around us every day that can help provide encouragement and motivation to be successful. 

Members of the recovery community also participated by submitting photos that share a visual of their own Recovery Story. Some of the inspiring responses to My Story is About . . . included, “Moving Forward!”, “Purpose”, “A Better Way”, and “I Am Worthy”.

The Role of Technology in Recovery from Drug and Alcohol Addiction

The most successful interventions leverage technology in conjunction with court-ordered participation in alcohol programs. In addition to support groups and therapy, requiring offenders to abstain from alcohol and be subject to continuous alcohol monitoring has been proven to be effective in reducing recidivism. Continuous alcohol monitoring begins with a critical assessment of a client, and then enforces accountability and compliance by promoting sobriety. 

Technology advancements continue to emerge that further the potential for client success. Software to help officers and agencies implement evidence-based practices, and mobile applications to provide ease of connection between officers and clients, are changing the landscape of recovery today. 

The combination of these resources—alongside traditional interventions—provides the optimal method for addressing the root cause of an individual’s alcohol misuse and abuse, ultimately supporting their recovery from addiction.


Sobering Up

National Safety Council Releases Data on 2020 Road Safety

National Safety Council 2020 Road Safety

The National Safety Council (NSC) has released information about the current safety of our roads, and the results may not be what you expect considering the impact COVID-19 has had on our daily routines. Despite sweeping stay-at-home orders for many months during the first half of the year—and far fewer drivers behind the wheel—NSC reports that the roads were deadlier.

Traffic Safety Challenges

According to the release, the U.S. experienced an estimated 20 percent jump in the death rate during the first half of 2020 compared to the same six-month period in 2019. Death rate data is used as an indicator of how safely drivers are using the roadways. According to NSC estimates, this increase in the death rate is the highest jump NSC has calculated for a six-month period since 1999. This is most notable when one considers that there was a 17 percent drop in the number of miles driven between January and June.

While the NSC announcement doesn’t directly identify causes for the dangerous roads, media coverage nationwide is reporting both drunk driving and a severe spike in speeding are frequent factors. With the anxiety and stress involved in enduring a global pandemic, many are turning to alcohol to cope and then getting behind the wheel. And with fewer cars on the roads, some drivers are shifting into high gear—driving 100 mph or more.

Which States’ Roads Were Deadliest?

Some states fared worse than others when it came to this trend. The top three states that reported notable increases in road fatalities during the first six months of 2020 were:

  • Vermont (+91%, 10 more deaths)
  • Connecticut (+44%, 45 more deaths)
  • District of Columbia (+42%, 5 more deaths)

Some states experienced decreases in the number of roadway deaths:

  • Wyoming (-49%, 39 fewer deaths)
  • Alaska (-31%, 11 fewer deaths)
  • Hawaii (-27%, 16 fewer deaths)

Making Roads Safer

In response to this data, NSC encourages motorists to focus on safety by obeying speed limits, designating a sober driver, and driving attentively while avoiding distractions.  

“Because of COVID-19 and states’ shelter-in-place orders earlier this year, the country should have reaped a safety benefit from less traffic,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Instead, our soaring rate of deaths speaks to our need to improve safety on our roads. Clearly, we must work harder as a society to reverse this trend, especially since the pandemic is not nearly over.”

NSC motor vehicle fatality estimates and supplemental information, including estimates for each state, can be found here.


Sobering Up

Hesitation to Use Ridesharing Services, Public Transportation Causing an Increase in DUIs?

Woman waiting for an Uber on the street wearing a mask.

Following months of quarantine and social distancing, many jurisdictions throughout the country are now reporting a disturbing new trend: an increase in DUI arrests. There are a number of potential explanations for such an increase, including the fact that people are more hesitant to use ridesharing options and public transportation for fear of contracting COVID-19.

Widespread Increase in Alcohol Abuse

The stress involved in experiencing a global pandemic has increased alcohol intake globally. Online “quarantini” memes and recipes are in abundance, and in mid-March alcohol sales surged by 55 percent as people turned to drinking to deal with the stress, anxiety, and grief brought on by isolation. Many bars and restaurants are re-opening after months of closure and restrictions. And more people are taking advantage of that opportunity to get out of their homes, while still enticed to drink.

Drunk Driving on the Rise

During the months of March and April, many news outlets were actually reporting a dramatic decrease in DUI arrests as people complied with stay-at-home orders. But when restrictions began to lift in May, alcohol consumption remained high. According to data from research company Nielsen, for the week ending on May 2, total alcohol sales in the U.S. were up by more than 32% compared to the same week the previous year. Around that same time, DUI arrests began to rise. A news story out of South Carolina indicated that despite continued pleas for social distancing, in May the Charleston Police Department reported more DUI incidents than in the same month in 2019.

Drinking? Yes. Public Transportation? No.

While some people are excited to get out more, most continue to have some concerns about the safety of certain public spaces. This includes public transportation and rideshare vehicles. According to a recent study, 39% of people surveyed who previously used rideshare services said they will reduce their use or stop using them entirely due to COVID-19. And 45% said the same about public transportation. Among those who plan to decrease or stop using these services, 49% indicated that they would increase use of their personal vehicle as a result.   

What Rideshare Companies Say about Safety

According to the websites of popular rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, many new procedures are in place in response to COVID-19. Drivers and riders are required to wear masks, front seats are to remain empty, and the companies are working to distribute cleaning supplies to drivers in cities with the greatest need.

“Everybody’s concerned about getting in the cab with someone else, or getting in an Uber with somebody else, right now with the COVID thing, but above all, don’t take any chances, make sure you get a designated driver to get you home,” said Lt. Rick Carson of the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office.

While the risk of COVID-19 is a concern, the risks involved in drinking and driving remain critical as well.


Sobering Up

Domestic Violence: The Hidden Danger of Social Distancing

For most, this is a time of fear and uncertainty. Unfortunately, for some, the fear comes more from the solution than from the COVID-19 virus itself. While social distancing is essential to help minimize exposure to the virus and to save lives, the act itself can be dangerous for those in an abusive or alcohol-dependent relationship.

Isolation and Domestic Violence

Isolation is a common tactic used by an abuser to control his or her partner. By eliminating external sources of support for the victim, the abuser is able to solidify a position of power. This behavior can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, from monitoring a victim’s phone activity to completely cutting out or restricting contact with friends and family. Unfortunately, now that we are many weeks into this crisis, it is likely that the magnitude of partner abuse could intensify. According to BreakTheCycle.org, isolation can “create the space in a relationship for the partner using abusive behaviors to escalate other harmful behaviors.”

Alcohol Abuse Amplifies Risk

Evidence suggests that alcohol use increases the chance and gravity of domestic violence, demonstrating a direct correlation between the two. “Because alcohol use affects cognitive and physical function, it reduces a person’s self-control and lessens their ability to negotiate a non-violent resolution to conflicts,” according to Alcohol.org. “Alcohol is often involved in instances of domestic abuse, both by the perpetrator and the victim, which can result in more significant and negative outcomes.” In fact, an estimated 55 percent of people who commit domestic abuse were drinking, and women who experience domestic violence are up to 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol themselves. 

How COVID-19 Could Uniquely Impact Intimate Partner Violence Survivors

By being asked to further separate from others, this sense of isolation is even more pronounced for victims of abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, there are a number of ways that the COVID-19 crisis could be uniquely impacting survivors of partner abuse: 

  • Abusive partners may withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
  • The sharing misinformation about the pandemic can be used by abusive partners to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
  • Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.
  • Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted – shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelters because of being in close quarters with groups of people.
  • Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
  • Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.
  • An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.

With bars closed and restaurants not serving alcohol, sales have surged for alcohol delivery and online orders. USC News reports, “economic dislocation, job loss and fear of death by disease are triggers for substance use, which heightens the risk of other issues like suicide and domestic violence,” according to Daryl Davies, professor of clinical pharmacology at the USC School of Pharmacy and director of the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory at USC. In order to cope with anxiety and worry, many are turning to alcohol to self-medicate. 

Help Is Available

For those struggling with alcohol dependence, the impact of isolation can be even more amplified. Certain resources may be harder to access due to social distancing. Thankfully, technology has made it easier to connect with our loved ones. Those who are struggling with alcohol should find support in speaking with friends, family members, therapists, or anyone who may provide encouragement. As the duration of social distancing extends, some programs have also begun offering virtual 12-Step meetings available online.  

The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends that those with friends or family members experiencing abuse remember that you cannot make decisions for them, but can encourage your loved one to think about their wellbeing, establish a safety plan, and practice self-care while in their own home. If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.


Sobering Up

NHTSA Awards $562 Million in Highway Safety Grants

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced the allocation of $ 562 million in grant funds to offices of highway safety in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Grant Money to Support Road Safety Awareness Programs

The funds are earmarked to address impaired driving, promote seat belt use, improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and fund other important traffic safety efforts, according to the U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.  

Additionally, the agency announced that $ 297 million in state and community highway safety program funds will further enhance highway safety through activities such as the Click It or Ticket program related to seat belt use, and the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign related to impaired driving. 

Funds to Fight Impaired Driving

A large chunk of the funds – $ 147.5 million – will be dedicated to impaired driving countermeasures, to combat driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Among the many programs receiving funding through state and local grants, $ 2.1 million has been identified to fund 24/7 sobriety programs and to use for testing or monitoring of individuals charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. 

How the Grants are Divvied Up 

The top 10 states receiving NHTSA grants were California ($ 50.1 million); Texas ($ 39.2 million); New York ($ 29 million); Florida ($ 26.1 million); Illinois ($ 21.1 million); Pennsylvania ($ 19.8 million); Ohio ($ 17.8 million); Michigan ($ 16.4 million); Georgia ($ 15.4 million); and New Jersey ($ 14.6 million).

The official NHTSA announcement can be found here


Sobering Up

After One Year With Stricter DUI Laws, Utah Arrest Data Appears Mixed

On Dec. 30, 2019, the state of Utah marked one year under revised DUI laws that reduced the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) used to identify drivers as impaired–down from 0.08% to 0.05%. The Beehive State was the first in the union—and remains the only state thus far—to adopt this lower BAC designation. 

Now that the law has been on the books for a full calendar year, the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) has released 2019 data, reporting that arrest numbers have remained steady. Annually, the state tracks approximately 10,000 DUI arrests. 

However, shortly after releasing that data, the final numbers for DUI arrests in Utah over the New Year’s holiday were released. Arrests during that time doubled over last year’s figures, and 39 people were arrested for DUI on New Year’s Eve alone. The UHP attributes this change to a higher number of troopers on the road compared to 2018, suggesting that they simply caught more of these drivers in the act because of the increased patrol capabilities. 

Is Utah’s DUI Law Effective at Reducing Impaired Driving?

According to the UHP (via The Salt Lake City Tribune), the purpose of the 0.05 change was not about arresting people that wouldn’t have otherwise been arrested but rather was intended to encourage drivers to make better decisions. Of the approximately 10,000 DUI arrests in Utah each year, individuals with a BAC of between 0.05% and 0.079% account for only 7% of those arrests. 

While that may be the case, The National Transportation Safety Board has noted that impairment can begin with as little as one drink and has recommended that all states shift to the 0.05% standard adopted by Utah. Many pose the question as to if this change will positively impact the issue of impaired driving; this recently released 2019 data coming out of Utah will likely continue to fuel the debate.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.


Sobering Up

GHSA Releases Report on Combating Threat of High-Risk Impaired Drivers

This week, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in partnership with Responsibility.org released a report, High-Risk Impaired Drivers: Combating a Critical Threat, which emphasizes the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing the pervasive problem of High-Risk Impaired Drivers (HRIDs). HRIDs are impaired driving offenders who are likely to drive with a BAC of .15 g/dL or higher repeatedly, often due to a combination of drugs and alcohol. These drivers cause about one-third of all impaired driving deaths annually and are resistant to changing behavior despite sanctions, treatment, or education. 

The approach outlined in this report centers around involving practitioners from many disciplines collaborating to identify the root cause of an offender’s behavior and then determining what sanctions should be administered in what is referred to as individualized justice. This approach may include alcohol/drug monitoring technologies, transdermal alcohol testing, intensive supervision that holds the offender accountable, and individualized treatment and aftercare. Individualized justice is now identified by criminal justice experts as being more effective at deterring HRIDs than the traditional legislative response of heavy fines and incarceration. 

A few key takeaways from this report: 

  • Alcohol-impaired fatalities accounted for 29% of all U.S. motor vehicle fatalities in 2018, the lowest percentage since 1982 when NHTSA began reporting alcohol data. This equates to 10,511 people losing their lives in motor vehicle crashes involving at least one driver with a BAC of .08 or higher. 
  • Drugs—both legal (including prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as cannabis in some states) and illegal—are playing an increasingly more prevalent and dangerous role in motor vehicle crashes. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of fatally injured drivers that tested positive for drugs increased from 28% to 44%. 
  • All motorists who drive impaired pose a hazard to themselves and others but the greater the level of impairment the higher the crash risk. Sixty-six percent of the drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2018 had BAC levels at or above .15. These impaired drivers are involved in more than 60% of the alcohol-impaired driving deaths each year.
  • Drivers with BACs of .08 or higher, who were involved in fatal crashes, were also 4.5 times more likely to have prior convictions for DUI than drivers with no alcohol (9% and 2%, respectively). These repeat offenders cause about one-third of all impaired driving deaths annually, a statistic that has remained relatively unchanged for years. 
  • Local DUI task forces, such as the York County Target 25 Program, are taking on high-risk impaired drivers with new approaches. Target 25 deals with the 25 percent of the county’s docket that are repeat offenders (hence the program name) and has reduced the occurrence of pretrial recidivism for impaired drivers by more than 90 percent. 
  • Working collaboratively, we can break the dangerous and deadly cycle of recidivism and ultimately put an end to impaired driving fatalities on our nation’s roadways. Doing so requires moving away from a conviction-centered approach to an individualized justice approach that focuses on getting to the heart of the HRID’s abuse of alcohol and/or other substances.


Sobering Up