Thursday, January 1, 2004

Drunken driving statute toughened as 2004 begins

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Starting today, Ohio's laws are tougher on drunken drivers.

The drunken driving law has been renamed "operating a vehicle under the influence'' - or OVI - to reflect that it is now illegal to operate any type of vehicle, motorized or non-motorized, while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

The law also creates a new offense. It is now illegal for a person to be in "physical control" of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. "Physical control" means being in the driver's seat and having possession of the ignition key or ignition device.

Blue Ash prosecutor David P. Fornshell said the new OVI statute requires actual movement of the vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, whereas the physical control statute does not.

A person can be cited for a physical control violation anywhere while intoxicated, even on his or her own property.

While all operating a vehicle under the influence violations carry mandatory license suspensions, a physical control violation does not.

The law also requires that first-time offenders under the new law seeking limited driving privileges -- to and from work, for instance - must display special plates on vehicles they own until normal driving privileges are restored.

The yellow and red plates have been an option for judges to impose since 1967, but were rarely used.

"We don't want people to have the impression that when we see these plates we automatically assume the driver is impaired," said Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Rick Fambro. "The plates are part of the conviction process -- not probable cause to think someone might be impaired."

Cincinnati police Lt. Robert Hungler said the plate is extra punishment for a repeat offender.

The law creates another threshold for drunkenness. A driver is still assumed to be under the influence at 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content. But if the driver exceeds 0.169 percent blood-alcohol content, penalties increase. Punishment for a first-time offense, for example, is doubled from three days in jail to six days.

Cincinnati police officer Steve Edwards said that change toughens the law significantly.

"It takes a lot of drinking to get to that limit," Edwards said. "By the time you get to that point you know you are under the influence. You're staggering, slurring speech. It's not something that sneaks up on you."

Other Ohio law changes

New speeding laws

In the past anyone convicted of speeding four miles per hour over the posted speed limit had two points assessed to his driver's license. Legislators decided the threshold for driving on highways should be higher.

Now, two points won't be assessed to a person's license unless he's caught driving nine or more miles per hour over the speed limit.

Domestic violence sentencing

The maximum penalty for domestic violence was one year in prison. The new law gives judges discretion to put a third-time offender in prison for up to five years.

Ann McDonald, executive director of Rape Crisis and Abuse Center of Hamilton County, praised the new law.

"This gives more options to the legal system when a serious crime has been committed," McDonald said. "

Minor misdemeanor sentences

In the past anyone convicted on a minor misdemeanor charge could be fined up to $100.

That maximum fine has been increased to $150 and judges can impose up to 30 hours of community service as well. Additionally, judges now have the power to order restitution be paid.

Sexual offenders database

Ohioans can look up information about convicted sex offenders in all 88 counties using a new Web site.

The eSORN Web site, operated by the attorney general's office, is the first such statewide database.

It allows residents to search for sex offenders by school district, name, address and ZIP code. The site can be found online at

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