Editorials

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Raising the stakes on drunken driving

When a drunken driver kills a person, he creates tragedy for that person's family and friends. But when that same driver kills two or three or four victims, he magnifies that pain and loss, and even more people suffer.

When Randall J. Visor got behind the wheel drunk in 1997, he wiped out the lives of four promise-filled young women. Three were Naperville 16-year-olds and the fourth was Visor's passenger, a widowed mother of three.

The law permitted the judge to sentence Visor to a maximum of 14 years for killing multiple victims in a drunken-driving crash. Take away time off for good behavior, and that amounts to serving about 20 months for each fatality.

That hardly seems adequate punishment for robbing a family of its loved one. In this case, the families were outraged at the brevity of the sentence, and understandably so.

They couldn't do anything to change it. But they could try to change things for the future. They saw the possibility of altering the law to heighten the penalty for similar cases.

Drunken-driving prevention groups, such as the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the DuPage County state's attorney's office worked together to draft a law that doubles the maximum sentence in multiple-fatality drunken-driving crashes. The law that eventually was approved provides for the perpetrator to receive 3 to 28 years.

Congratulations to these groups on their efforts, which came to fruition Wednesday when Gov. George Ryan signed the bill into law.

We would hope that these stiffer penalties for drunken driving homicides would make drinkers think twice before climbing behind the wheel. The more drinkers know about the penalties, the more they may fear them and consequently stay off the roads.

Drunken-driving prevention groups and the legal system are slowly making progress in changing the way the public thinks about driving while inebriated. …