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Summit called to address drunk drivers in Mo.

Mo. Gov. Jay Nixon addresses DWI summit in Jefferson City.
St. Louis Public Radio
Mo. Gov. Jay Nixon addresses DWI summit in Jefferson City.

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio

Jefferson City, Mo. – More than two dozen law enforcement officers, attorneys, judges and anti-drunk driving activists gathered in Jefferson City today to study ways to reduce the number of intoxicated drivers in Missouri.

Governor Jay Nixon convened the summit. He told participants that many offenders are in effect being slapped on the wrist.

Nixon says one-third of repeat offenders are charged with a misdemeanor instead of a felony, and that there are obstacles preventing police and prosecutors from sharing information about prior offenses.

"The oncoming vehicle a Missouri driver faces on a cold and rainy night, on a twisty two-lane road, coming at them...we should make sure with all of our power that that person is facing a sober driver," Nixon said.

Among those attending was Dwight Scroggins, a prosecuting attorney from St. Joseph. He told the gathering that one of the biggest problems is that those pulled over for DWI are often treated as first-time offenders who just made a mistake.

"The reality is someone who gets arrested on a first-offense DWI is in all likelihood a multiple-time repeat drunk driver who has just gotten caught for the first time," Scroggins said.

The proposed solutions include: Making it a crime to refuse to submit to a breath test; removing DWI cases from municipal courts, which have low DWI conviction rates; creating a public database for drunk drivers, similar to the state's sex offender registry; and further expanding the use of ignition interlock devises.

Governor Nixon convened the summit for the purpose of coming up with ideas for tougher DWI legislation, which will be proposed during the 2010 session.