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How did one driver rack up 25 drunk driving arrests?

March 9, 2012

DUI 25 times
DUI 25 times

Earlier this week, a judge in Virginia Beach, Va., ordered Tracy Michael Decker, 39, to serve seven years in prison and be barred from driving a vehicle for 20 years. His crime: Driving while intoxicated -- for at least the 25th time. Given that Decker already spent four years in prison, he's apparently averaging one DUI arrest for every year since he's had a driver's license. How is this possible?

Blame the patchwork of state laws that govern drivers' behavior. Getting information about arrests can be dicey; each state defines intoxicated driving slightly differently, and it can be easy for someone to stay ahead of overworked police forces by simply moving. In addition, there's a patchwork of rules about when drunk drivers must ride with breathalyzer systems that immobilize vehicles if the operator's under the influence; some states require it for anyone convicted of DUI, while others only use it for repeat offenders or drivers far above the legal alcohol limit.

But Decker's case still stands out. Virginia authorities last caught up with Decker in January 2006, when after an argument at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll booth, police found Decker driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.28 -- and two children under the age of 4 riding in the car without child seats or seat belts. That earned him a 20-year prison sentence, with 15 years suspended. It was only his second DUI arrest in Virginia, with the remainder of his record built in Alabama or Georgia.

After his release in August 2010, Decker was next picked up in Alabama in January 2011 -- and racked up three more DUI arrests there by April 2011. According to WVEC-TV, Decker was free on bond from those charges when Virginia authorities caught up with him for violating the terms of his parole. In addition to spending seven more years behind bars, the judge ordered Decker to substance abuse counseling, refrain from alcohol and stay on good behavior for 20 years.

Drunk driving remains the single dumbest vehicle crime Americans take part in en masse; despite a 35% decline in deaths over the past two decades, some 10,000 people a year still die in alcohol-related crashes, and studies estimate tipsy drivers slump behind the wheel roughly 110 million times annually. The problem vexes auto safety experts to the point where federal officials are developing alcohol sensors that could be built into every new vehicle. Decker's case suggests before turning to technology, there's still room for more effective enforcement of the laws we have already.

Top photo: AP