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Chronic drunk drivers may face new penalty: vehicle seizure

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

It's an approach that is expanding across the state. A driver who faces a second felony DWI conviction, faces the loss of the car.

The vehicle seizure would be used against a driver who had a prior DWI within the last ten years or three DWI's in 15 years or is charged with violating Leandra's law by driving drunk with a child 15 years or younger in the car.

Acting District Attorney Michael Flaherty says the program is being tried in Cheektowaga, Orchard Park, West Seneca and with the sheriff's department.

"It's another tool that helps in the deterrence model," said Stop DWI Director John Sullivan.

"All of the sanctions and the fines and the license sanctions and all the trouble that people get in for driving while intoxicated, this is just another lever, another layer of punishment. An important part of this is that people know they are risking their vehicle by committing this crime again."

According to Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard, the number of DWI cases is falling. Still, there remains a surprising number of chronic drunk drivers. He says his deputies average about one arrest per day where "the person's previously been convicted and didn't learn his or her lesson, so being convicted or stopped again for drunk driving or whose license has been suspended."

He adds that some DWI convicts are not following court orders to have special ignition interlocks installed on their vehicles.

Around a quarter of the felony cases in the District Attorney's office are DWI cases.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.