Stiffer penalties for higher BACs
The majority of states have laws that impose more severe penalties for drivers with high blood alcohol concentrations (BACs), usually 0.15 or 0.20 percent or more. Minnesota's law, effective in 1998, defines a high BAC as 0.20 percent or more. Offenders face double the pre-conviction administrative license revocation term (180 days instead of 90), and jail time is mandatory. This is the only state to mandate administrative impoundment of offenders' license plates. A federal study has found that first-time high BAC offenders in Minnesota had significantly lower recidivism rates after a year than offenders with BACs of 0.17-0.19 percent who weren't subject to the more severe penalties. The large majority of high BAC offenders did, in fact, draw stiffer penalties. Breath test refusals didn't increase as some had feared.
Photo radar in Oregon
The Supreme Court of Oregon has found that the state's photo enforcement of speed limits doesn't violate constitutional rights to due process. Tickets generated by photo radar systems are issued to the registered owners of vehicles, and the case involved the state's inference that a vehicle owner is driving at the time of a violation. The defendant claimed this presumption was unconstitutional, but the Court pointed out that the violation is civil, not criminal, so there's a lower burden of proof. The legislature "reasonably could select proof of ownership as the point at which the burden shifts to the registered owner to prove that he or she was not driving." Previous constitutional challenges to photo enforcement in other states also have been rejected (see "In other highway safety news …," Feb. 7, 2004).
Red light cameras in wide use
More than 100 U.S. communities now operate red light camera enforcement programs, and the number is growing. Thirty communities including Philadelphia, Virginia Beach, and Providence authorized cameras in 2003. Chicago has announced a program of 40 red light cameras at 20 intersections by the end of 2004, putting this city on target to operate one of the largest programs in the country. Cameras decrease red light violations and intersection crashes, especially those involving injuries (See Status Report special issue: automated enforcement, May 4, 2002).
Almost 200 complaints over the past 2 years have prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to move toward rulemaking that would address the issue of headlight glare. The agency has reviewed almost 5,000 comments solicited earlier and decided to address 6 aspects of the problem — mounting height, auxiliary lamps, technologies such as high intensity discharge and light emitting diodes, bulb specifications such as size and color, aiming, and adaptive frontal lighting. The notice of proposed rulemaking for mounting height is expected this summer, and the other notices are expected to follow.