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Drugged Drivers Face Tougher Penalties Under New Legislation

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LANSING (WWJ/AP) - Drugged drivers are targeted in new legislation that would require immediate jail time for repeat offenders.

Republican Rep. Dan Lauwers of Brockway introduced the three-bill package on drugged driving earlier this week. The legislation would place a conditional bond on people arrested for drugged driving and mandate a temporary license for drivers who fail a roadside chemical sobriety test.

Lauwers said the bills would improve law enforcement records on defendants by letting officials enter a pending chemical analysis into the Law Enforcement Information Network.

“The growing incidents of drugged driving represents a clear and present danger to all Michigan residents, and immediate reforms are needed to help curb this ongoing threat,” Lauwers said in a statement. “Unlike drunken drivers, drugged drivers are currently able to avoid real punishment and stay behind the wheel longer, with often tragic results.”

Lauwers pointed to a recent case involving two young men who were killed in a crash with a woman who was driving under the influence of prescription pills. Witnesses testified that the vehicle driven by 30-year-old Lisa Bergman crossed the center line, causing the collision.

St. Clair County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Singleton said in his testimony that Bergman “was one of the most impaired people I have ever seen operating a vehicle.” A Michigan State Police toxicology report later showed that Bergman’s blood tested positive for Oxycontin and Soma, narcotic pain killers, as well as alcohol.

Lauwers said Bergman had been pulled over six times since 2008 for operating under the influence of drugs, and at the time of the accident she had two pending cases. She was sentenced earlier this month to spend 25 to 50 years in prison.

“This terrible tragedy exposed the many gaps in current law as well as some practices that needed immediate attention,” he said. “The significant backlog with the Michigan State Police Crime Lab has improved but we still need to fix the glaring gaps in state law that contributed to this horrific crash.  Our hope now is to spare other Michigan families from the senseless tragedy of losing a loved one due to repeat drugged drivers.”

Michigan had the 12th highest rate of drugged drivers in the country from 2006-2009, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  Fatal crashes involving marijuana use tripled nationally during the previous decade, according to Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.  Marijuana use alone contributed to 12 percent of 2010 crashes, representing a 300-percent increase compared to 1999.

“Drugged driving has quickly become a major public safety issue, and at the very least needs to be treated with the same seriousness as drunken driving,” Lauwers said.  “This legislation is a genuine step toward better protecting the people of Michigan.”

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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