Drunk driving the wrong way on Illinois roadways is now a felony.
The governor has signed a bill in to law that makes wrong way driving an aggravated factor in driving under the influence of alcohol arrests. It allows for judges to allot additional penalties and longer prison terms at the sentencing phase of a trial.
Previously, a judge could not take wrong-way driving into consideration during sentencing.
This is the first such law in the nation.
“This is really good news. This is huge. Hopefully, it’ll set a precedent for the rest of the country to follow suit,” said Lisa Smith, who lost her son to a wrong-way driver in 2015.
Steven Smith was a U.S. Marine reservist and had been a Chicago Ridge police officer for seven months when he was killed in the crash near Oak Brook.
According to his mother, the wrong way driver’s punishment did not fit the crime.
“The whole reason why I’ve been so vocal is to be able to help someone going through this to know there’s going to be justice for their loved ones. With this new law, if they hit someone, it’s going to be automatic jail time,” Smith said.
A 2015 NBC 5 Investigates analysis of state records revealed more than 50 people have been killed and nearly 300 have been injured by wrong-way drivers in Illinois since 2005.
Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel cited the NBC 5 investigation while helping lawmakers draft new legislation.
State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D) of the 23rd District sponsored the bill.
“I’d like to thank Lisa Smith for her patience as we worked to pass this important law as a testament to her son, Chief Weitzel for bringing the bill to my attention, Senator Mike Hastings for being the bill’s champion in the Senate, and Governor Rauner for his signature,” Zalewski said.
The law has safety provisions for non-intoxicated people who enter the roadway the wrong way.