Rep. Pignatelli: Track drunken drivers' licenses

Saturday June 2, 2012

BOSTON -- State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli on Friday introduced legislation intended to curb the potentially deadly impact of repeat drunken drivers getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

Pignatelli’s bill would require anyone whose license had been revoked or suspended due to a drunken driving conviction to get a new license, when eligible, with a red stripe prominently displayed across its face for a period of two years.

The Lenox Democrat said the idea sprang from a meeting of friends and family of Moira Banks-Dobson that was organized by Castle Street Cafe owner Michael Ballon in March. The gathering was held in the wake of the Feb. 28 multi-car crash in Sheffield that killed the 24-year-old resident and severely injured another driver, Russell Brown of Great Barrington.

That crash was allegedly caused by Frederick Weller, 35, of Sandy Hook, Conn., who was seen swerving in and out of traffic on Route 7 before crashing head-on into Brown’s and Banks-Dobson’s vehicles. Weller is facing multiple felony charges, including motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of alcohol and fifth offense drunken driving.

The drunken driving charge was actually Weller’s seventh in four states since 1994, but the maximum charge in Mas sachusetts is fifth offense.

Pignatelli said the purpose of the red stripe would be to give bars, restaurants and package stores pause before excessively serving someone with a past record.

"I don’t look at it as a scarlet letter," said Pignatelli. "I look at it as raising awareness and making the people selling the alcohol more aware and more in tune with the societal problem we have with drinking and driving."

Because the bill was introduced near the end of the legislative session, it likely won’t pass this year. The reason to introduce the bill now, he said, was to raise awareness heading into the prom and graduation season.

Pignatelli said he will push hard to pass the bill next session if he’s re-elected. There are similar laws in Georgia and other states, he said.

Pignatelli said Massachusetts has some of the toughest drunken driving laws in the nation and he acknowledged his bill won’t stop people from driving while intoxicated if they really want to. But if it ends up saving just one life, he said, it will be a success.

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