CHEYENNE — After a short interlude, the Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving is back. And now, its focus will be on turning the last council’s ideas into action to curb the state’s significant DUI rates.
During its first meeting in Cheyenne on Thursday, the 29-member council began to set out an ambitious list of goals to tackle, such as overhauling Wyoming’s supervised probation program and even penalizing bartenders who serve overintoxicated customers.
Drugs or alcohol played a role in 45 percent of Wyoming’s 153 traffic deaths in 2010, according to figures released earlier this year by the state Department of Transportation. That’s the highest percentage since 1995, state statistics show.
Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal created the Governor’s Impaired Driving Council in 2003; it was succeeded by a similar committee called the Governor’s Leadership Team to Prevent Impaired Driving in Wyoming.
The councils made a number of recommendations that became law, from creating an ignition interlock program for DUI offenders to expanding the definition of “driving under the influence” to include a number of drugs.
Created by Gov. Matt Mead last fall, the new council — like the previous councils — can only make recommendations to state policymakers.
But their job now is to find ways to get lawmakers and state officials to enact the other recommendations made by the previous councils, said council facilitator Ernie Johnson, a management consultant from Douglas.
“The council is going to do whatever is needed that’ll reduce the numbers” of DUIs, Johnson said.
The council will also likely consider laws that don’t directly involve driving, Johnson said, such as making it illegal to serve overly drunk customers alcohol. Wyoming is one of only two states that doesn’t already have such a law in place, he said.
“Everything’s on the table,” Johnson said.
The council’s members include law enforcement officials, lawyers, state transportation officials and judges, among others. The task force plans to meet quarterly, advising the governor on DUI-related issues.
However, during the council’s initial meeting, many members said Wyoming has already come a long way in recent years from the days when drunk driving was much more commonplace and widely tolerated.
“I remember when a guy was driving with a .25 [blood-alcohol content], and you’d let him go,” said Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick, who started his law enforcement career as a patrol officer in 1981. The current maximum BAC level for Wyoming drivers is .08.
Speaking to the council, Mead pledged his support and urged members not to hold back recommendations because they might not be politically feasible.
“I think this is a critical issue for Wyoming,” Mead said. “It’s not part of Wyoming culture to drive drunk.”