A stricter repeat DUI law comes into effect in Pennsylvania

A new Pennsylvania law provides for tougher penalties for repeat driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, PennDOT announced Tuesday.

“This law makes significant changes to the existing law that will ultimately increase the protections of all drivers by preventing repeat offenders from continuing to drive a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol after being charged with a DUI,” said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian. “The repetition of these offenses puts others at risk and these law changes reflect the seriousness of these acts to make our streets safer.”

The legislation — known as “Deana’s Law” — increases the rating for certain DUI offenses, requires a consecutive conviction for certain repeat offenders, and imposes an 18-month license suspension for a second-degree DUI conviction, PennDOT said in a news release.

The law is named after Deana Eckman, a 45-year-old Delaware County resident who died in 2019 at the hands of a drunk serial driver. Her family and friends pushed for the law to be passed for years.

By law, a person charged with DUI who refuses a breath or chemical test; is charged with DUI with a blood alcohol content of 0.16% or higher; or charged with a controlled substance-related DUI face more severe consequences based on how many prior offenses they have committed:

They face third-degree felony charges, which carry up to seven years in prison, for two previous offenses.

If they have three or more previous offenses, they face a second-degree felony charge, punishable by up to 10 years in prison

The law also requires that a person convicted of a DUI offense who has had two or more prior convictions consecutively serve their new sentence with any other jail time they are already serving, except for offenses that must be merged. In addition, the law provides for an increase in sentences in cases where an individual has committed four or more DUI offenses in the past.

“Disabled driving puts everyone at risk, and repeat offenders disregard the risk they pose every time they get behind the wheel with a disability,” said Maj. Robert Krol, director of the State Police Patrol Bureau. “This law increases the penalties for these individuals and hopefully they will think twice before committing another crime.”

In 2020, state police made 18,412 DUI arrests. According to PennDOT, an estimated 7,700 accidents were alcohol-related in 2020, of which about 6,565 resulted from a drunk driver. 3,701 of these accidents resulted in injuries and 293 in alcohol-related deaths.