City Council adopts ‘super drunk’ regulations

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 19, 2012


“Super drunk” drivers nabbed in Sterling Heights are now more likely to face steeper penalties, thanks to code amendments adopted recently.

Known as the “High BAC” law, referring to blood alcohol content — or more informally, the “Super Drunk” legislation — the measure is part of the Michigan Vehicle Code that became effective in October 2010. 

Under the law, drunken drivers with blood alcohol content of .17 or higher face up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $700, versus the previous limits of 93 days and $500, Lt. Dale Dwojakowski, of the Sterling Heights Police Department’s traffic safety bureau, told council Nov. 20.

However, because the High BAC law incurs steeper penalties, and state law restricts home-rule cities from enforcing offenses involving jail time exceeding 93 days, Sterling Heights police could not enforce the “super drunk” laws locally. Instead, they had to send the case to the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, which meant more head-aches for everyone involved, said Dwojakowski.

It made no sense, logistically, as police had to file additional paperwork and go to Mount Clemens to testify in Macomb County Circuit Court, versus next door at 41-A District Court, he said.

Plus, the arrangement increased the caseload burden on county prosecutors and redirected revenues usually generated by the cases from the cities to the state, he added.

“We’ve had quite a few of them, but unfortunately, if we want to keep the case here and keep the revenue here, we actually dropped the charge down to a simple (operating while under the influence), which is unfortunate because now the driver, who was a .17 or higher, does not have that reflected on their record, and they also pay a lower fine,” he said.

Recognizing those complications, state legislators approved a Home Rule City amendment earlier this year that made it possible for cities to enforce the High BAC law by adopting an ordinance referencing the law’s provisions and penalties, Police Chief Michael Reese stated in a memo to council.

With council’s recent vote, Sterling Heights police can now charge the “super drunk” drivers locally, at 41-A — meaning it’s more likely officers will pursue the intensified charge, said Dwojakowski.

The more severe offense shows up on drivers’ records, allowing police officers who pull them over in the future to see that they were charged previously under the High BAC law, not just an OWI, he noted.

In response to Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko’s question about the prevalence of such cases, Dwojakowski replied, “I would say, out of 10 drunk drivers that we have, maybe two or three of them are at this level, .17 or higher. So it’s a substantial amount.”

Dwojakowski described .17 BAC as “quite substantially intoxicated.” If the typical driver who’s breached the legal threshold of .08 is “tipsy,” “picture that basically doubled,” and that’s .17, he said.

Symptoms will vary depending on the person’s size and amount consumed, but there will be loss of balance and coordination, slurring of speech and an impact on speed and distance perception, he said.

“At a .08, people can’t process,” he said. “Then you double that level, and you have a disaster waiting to happen.”

City Council voted unanimously Dec. 4 to approve the changes, following a formal introduction Nov. 20.

Councilman Joseph Romano, who noted that he lost his young neighbor to an accident involving an intoxicated driver, voiced approval for the amendment.

“I think we’ve all heard or read or know somebody personally who’s been involved with a drunk driver, who had gotten in an accident,” he said. “Any penalties that I can see that can be extended to drunk drivers, I’m for. I’m sorry it’s only six months and a $700 fine. I wish it was greater than that.

“I understand people do a lot of ‘friendly drinking,’ as they call it, but gosh, if you don’t know that you’ve had enough drinks to have somebody else drive for you, and you cause a problem, then you know what — pay the price,” he added. “Keeping a record of these people locally, maybe the signal it’ll send out (is), if you’re going to drink, don’t come to Sterling Heights.”