SD: Fewer South Dakota Drivers Licenses are being revoked for DUI
By Bridget Bennett
May 5, 2016
Last week Iowa lawmakers began looking into the state’s DUI policies after learning a fatal Interstate 80 crash involving two police officers was caused by a highly-impaired driver.
The numbers in Iowa revealed that since 2012 drunk-driving related deaths have increased while fewer drivers’ licenses were revoked.
Unfortunately, it’s a similar picture in South Dakota when it comes to alcohol related crashes.
In 2015 there were 1085 alcohol-involved crashes on South Dakota’s roadways, up from 1002 the year before and 988 in 2012. All while the number of licenses being revoked for driving under the influence is going down.
In 2012 more than 6,000 licenses were revoked, then down to 4,987 in 2014 and 4,732 in 2015, a 22 percent decrease in three years.
State leaders hope the drop simply means there are less drunk drivers on the road, but say the problem could be enforcement.
“I’m hoping it’s due to public education and the public becoming more aware of how unsafe it is to drink and drive,” Director of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety Driver’s Licensing Program Jane Schrank said.
Area law enforcement agree the state has stepped up education and awareness about drinking and driving.
“I don’t think fewer people are drinking and driving, but I do think more people are being responsible…and people are more aware of the issue,” Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said.
But several law enforcement officers say resources are lacking when it comes to continued DUI enforcement.
“We’re all short handed, we’re all just barely treading water trying to keep up,” Moody County Sheriff Troy Wellman said. “We can’t be proactive, so we have people getting by with a DUI because we’re dealing with an assault.”
Many Sheriffs across South Dakota say their deputies are already stretched thin, trying to cover the state’s vast miles of highways and interstates.
“It’s difficult to have a huge impact, especially in rural areas with one or two deputies patrolling the whole county,” Sheriff Milstead said.
“We’re not able to be out on the road, we’re not having checkpoints because we’re all short handed all the way across the state, highway patrol included, we’re all just trying to keep up, making due with what we have,” Sheriff Wellman said.
Milstead says his staff and resources are frequently focused on the increasing number of more serious crimes happening in the county like shootings, stabbings and robberies.
“Those calls take them away from routine enforcement efforts,” Milstead said.
“A DUI first is what we call a class one misdemeanor,” Moody County State’s Attorney Paul Lewis.
The charge comes with a maximum 30 days in jail; a penalty Lewis says is rarely seen in rural South Dakota.
“On a DUI first, at least here in Moody County, chances are you’ll never see the inside of a jail,” Sheriff Wellman said.
Any DUI conviction does mean a driver’s licenses will be revoked, but law enforcement say it doesn’t necessarily stop those repeat drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel again.
“If they want to drive, they’re going to drive; they’ll pay the fine, they’ll get caught, they’ll go to jail,” Sheriff Wellman said.
Lewis says the potential legal penalties rarely impact habitual DUI offenders, who often disregard the potential for greater consequences as well.
“They may be under the influence of an alcoholic beverage right now, operating a motor vehicle without a license, with their kids in the back,” Lewis said.
The South Dakota Department of Public Safety does offer DUI overtime grants to help local law enforcement proactively prevent and enforce the state’s drunk driving laws. Lewis said Moody Count participated in the program in 2014, when the county’s DUI arrests nearly doubled.