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May 31, 2011

Shumlin Signs "Nick's Law" to Crack Down on Repeat Drunk Drivers

Photo Nick Fournier would have graduated from college this spring.

Instead, Fournier's family, teachers and former classmates assembled this morning in the auditorium at Missisquoi Valley Union High School in Swanton, where Fournier attended high school, to watch Gov. Peter Shumlin sign "Nick's Law" — legislation meant to prevent the kinds of drunk-driving accidents that claimed Fournier's life in 2007.

Fournier was killed on Interstate 89 in Colchester by a repeat drunk driver going the wrong way. He was 18 years old. Backed by a dedicated crew of Fournier's friends and family, Franklin County legislators made two failed attempts to enact a "Nick's Law" that would impose tougher penalties on repeat drunk drivers before finally winning passage this year.

Asked by reporters how he felt after the signing ceremony, Fournier's dad, Rene Fournier, said: "Feels good. Really good. Also sad. Brings back a lot of memories."

Nick's Law creates a mandatory five-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of DUI with death resulting. Also, it makes it a crime for a person to knowingly let someone else drive their car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Also, anyone convicted for DUI with a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 or above, or twice the legal limit, will be barred for three years from operating a motor vehicle with anything higher than a .02.

Notably, the law also removes the state's alcohol-testing program from the Department of Health and places it in the Department of Public Safety, which has a fully accredited forensic lab. That move is a response to persistent problems with Vermont's breath-testing equipment that were first uncovered by Seven Days and have led to dozens of drunk driving cases being tossed.

Speaking to the assembled crowd, Shumlin vowed that his administration will take steps to ensure breath tests taken on DataMaster DMT instruments remain reliable evidence to convict drunk drivers.


Nicholas FournierPublic Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, whose department with assume control of the alcohol testing program in coming months, vigorously defended the state's breath-testing equipment in brief remarks to the crowd. Flynn said the department has "already undertaken a study to see how we're conducted business now.

(Photo at right is Nick Fournier)

"There is nothing wrong with the instrument," Flynn said. "The instrument does what it's supposed to. We're going to implement rules to make that instrument applicable to use when officers go to courts."

Shumlin, Flynn and other speakers who crowded around the podium all cautioned that Nick's Law won't stop drunk driving.

"DUI never stops," said Flynn, the former state's attorney in Orleans County. "I've been in public safety most of my adult life. One thing I've found about DUI is, it keeps growing. So many times through the course of my career I've had to meet with families who've had a relative, family member or friend die at the hands of a drunk driver.

"What this bill does," Flynn continued, "is it tells repeat offenders, 'You do this, you're going to jail.' There's nothing wrong with putting a repeat offender in jail. Getting behind the wheel drunk is a decision someone makes. When they make that decision, we need to be strong and swift in our punishment and that's what deterrence is all about."

The high school auditorium was awash in royal-blue T-shirts with the word "Nick" written in white. Other shirts read: "Nick's Law - 5-31-11 - We Passed It!"  Several times audience members gave lawmakers, the governor and Nick's parents standing ovations.

Nick's aunt, Betty Cheney, made an emotional and personal plea to the high schoolers in attendance, many of whom will graduate in just over a week.

DSC09733 "Many people drink. Actually, I think we have a lot of seniors here who can legally drink in Canada," said Cheney (pictured with Shumlin at left). "But no one should drink and drive. You have no right to do that. If you call for a ride, no one is ever going to turn  you down."

Cheney also acknowledged that Nick's Law, as passed, "isn't exactly what we envisioned Nick's Law to be." But she added, "We remain hopeful they will continue to look at DUI laws and recognize additional changes have to be made." Later, when asked if they had specific changes in mind, Cheney and Rene Fournier did not offer any.

Becky Phillips, a school psychologist at Missisquoi who sat behind me in the auditorium, says Nick's death threw the school of 1000 or so students into "shock" when it happened. Grief counselors were brought in from nearby mental health agencies to talk with distraught students. Phillips didn't know Nick personally but said his passing, while a terrible tragedy, created an opportunity to talk with students about the dangers of drunk driving in terms they could understand.

"Even if they didn't know Nick or his family, students see the shirts and know — you don't joke about drunk driving," Phillips said.

Photo at top courtesy of Gov. Peter Shumlin's office.

WCAX has reported that it took a DUI-3 + a 0.16% BAC to trigger the subsequent 0.02% limit?

Anyone knows which is correct. After your first DUI to reduce the limit makes sense, but this is our legislature.

Good step I guess. I'm all for cracking down on DUI's. First offense, no death or injury they you get a slap on the wrist. Anyone who gets DUI-2 needs to spend significant time in jail injury resulting or otherwise. I have issues with them making a distinction whereby there is 5 year sentence for a DUI with death resulting simply because the resulting death was random chance, drunk is drunk whether you happened to kill someone or not.

Sounds like Governor Shumlin is changing his mind about the value of prison sentences.

Well, another attempt at something tough, but the other side of the coin is whether the judges and prosecutors will follow through and prosecute and punish the drunk pricks or just let them off. There is currently a law that says 3 dui's and you are a felon, lose your license but the stupid and I mean this with emphasis, feel sorry for the drunk little a-holes and give them these, insulting to the public, reduced charges or suspend the jail time, so the stupids never learn. Neither does the legislature. Not til a judge's kid or a legislator's kid dies from the DUI crowd will we see TOUGH LAWS and OUGH real enforcement. Talk to any police and get the real story. VT is too pathetic to push and support in c ourt tough laws. The guy who killed Nick should be thrown into the darkest lonely cell for life. Small pay for the life he so violently and without any right, took AWAY>

For a real wake-up call, go to Montpelier and watch the legislators drink, and then drive somewhere.

The amount of cars outside places like the Spanked Puppy or Alchemist scares me. Just watch a slew of drunk drivers spiral their way home after a night in those places. I love a drink, but if I do when out I don't drive or if I need to drive I do not drink.

There should NOT just be a slap on the wrist for the first DUI. What does that do? Make everyone wait for their first DUI? How many have been injured or killed because of that stoopid logic? First DUI need a much harsher penalty. There should be NO allowance for drinking and driving.

That is true, Sukie. They fill the bars and then get in their cars. Anyone, ANYONE that gets in a car and drives after drinking is a selfish *****. It should not be allowed. Nobody can drink and drive carefully just like nobody can talk on their cell and drive. Stop being so ****ing selfish and be responsible on the roads.


I guess you have never made a mistake....

BTW, plenty of people can talk and drive at the sametime. Don't take out your deficencies on the rest of us.

Drinking and driving is not making a mistake. Not even once. NOBODY need to drink and drive. It's not a mistake and that logic is simply flawed in every way.

Talking on your cell and driving is not making a mistake.

Plenty of people are NOT able to talk on the phone and drive at the same time. I guess you're one of the fools who think you can. There are numerous studies out there to prove that talking on your cell is as bad as, and sometimes worse than drunk driving. I can post the links to those studies if you're that desperate for me to prove it's true, or you can google them yourself. The ban on talking on your cellphone and driving in other countries is not there for fun, you know.

Sure I've made mistakes but none of them involve endangering other people's lives. That doesn't make me perfect but it doesn't make me a selfish ***hole either. People who endanger other people's lives (and yes YOU are by using your cell while driving) are selfish. There is no debate over that matter.

"Sure I've made mistakes but none of them involve endangering other people's lives. That doesn't make me perfect but it doesn't make me a selfish ***hole either. "

No but your post does make you a prejudiced and close-minded one.

Sorry, but no I don't buy the fact that talking on my cell phone endangers people anymore then driving a stick. Unless of course I am driving a stick AND talking on the phone while drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette.

Anywho, I'd debate this with you but I have learned from past mistakes that anyone who draws such an absolute black and white line in the sand isn't someone that can be debated with, there are no arguments that can be made, no extenuating circumstances, nothing. Good luck with your philosophy and I hope you never make a mistake that endangers someone's well being, running a red a light to pick up your spilt red bull, forgetting to put you car in park, or failing to use your blinker. Because of course, those things aren't mistakes???

Stepping in to remind everyone to keep it civil, please. You can disagree without turning the conversation violent, remember...

OK, so my post got deleted. It would have been nice to have deleted the parts that were breaking the rules rather than the whole thing.

It's not a mistake to fail to use a turn signal or do any of the crap listed above. They're stoopid excuses when driving. I learned to drive in a country which does not tolerate irresponsible and selfish driving. Geezuz, it's hard enough to get people to wear seat belts in VT. That's 30-40 years behind most developed countries and I'm not exaggerating.

Anyway, for anyone who is deluded enough to think that driving a shift or any other excuse is akin to driving while talking on their damn phone:

And many more links available, but I guess you don't care and think it's way more important to keep talking on your phone, not consider others, and not drive responsibly.

Good luck with that.

"Geezuz, it's hard enough to get people to wear seat belts in VT."

You don't suppose that this is because we aren't all sheep to be led around by our government? Afterall, In this country I have the freedom of liberty, to make my own choices including whether or not I want to wear a seat belt.

Oh and by the way :

"They're stoopid excuses when driving." In America it's spelled s-t-u-p-i-d

If you want to get into an English spelling debate, I think you have aleady lost.

Yes, I knew you were selfish and would come up with that excuse too. Freedom of liberty is bollocks here. Typical that you think you have it all. Get a passport and see what you're missing. Freedom my arse.

I guess you'll ignore the links I could post about wearing seat belts too. I guess you think you're not harming others by not wearing a seat belt? LOL Ignorance is bliss, isn't it?

I do in fact wear my seat belt, I do so because I choose to protect myself. There are those that choose not to. I just respect other people and there decisions to do as they wish.

BTW did you actually read the links you posted??

"In the US, the number of cell phone subscribers has increased by 1,262.4% between the years 1985-2008. In approximately the same period the number of crashes has fallen by 0.9% (1995–2009) and the number of fatal crashes fallen by 6.2%"

"Similarly, a 2010 study from the Highway Loss Data Institute published in February 2010 reviewed auto claims from three key states along with Washington D.C. prior to cell phone bans while driving and then after. The study found no reduction in crashes, despite a 41% to 76% reduction in the use of cell phones while driving"

Yup, that sure does support your point.....

Regardless, do as you please, let me do as I please. Maybe stay in Canada and pay your $50 / liter for gas if you don't want to risk a driver talking on their cell phone.

It's really sad that some people have such little brain function that they can't talk and drive at the same time. I saw a lady eating a salad while driving the other day, blessed I guess.

"Yes, I knew you were selfish and would come up with that excuse too."

Um, so anyone who doesn't agree with you is selfish? Could you get anymore religious and self-righteous? Go away.

Lovely Americans want to stand by their selfish ways by just claiming they have liberty and claiming they are not endangering others by their selfish choices. I knew you'd pull out the stats that agree with your selfish choices and not even care about the rest of the facts or to think about the choice that you make every day that endangers others. Just like the drunk driver this story is about.

If you think I'm from Canada I'm highly amused. I've traveled way further than that, sweetie. I suggest you do the same to see where a civilised society exists. Petrol costs way more and I'm happy to pay that in my home country as the roads are WAY safer and in WAY better condition than any road in the US. Gas guzzling because petrol is dirt cheap is another pet hate but hey it's FREEDOM, right?!


Enjoy your choices and live with the consequences. If you're foolish enough to think there are none you have no sense or logic. I'm sure the driver above had exactly the same logic and sense as you.

"I knew you'd pull out the stats that agree with your selfish choices and not even care about the rest of the facts "

PIF, what other facts? The simulated study done in Quebec or the one that looked at 3 accidents?

Yes, I prefer to look at the stats from the studies that take into consideration large data sets over long periods of time.

Anyways, I'm not sure where you are from, but it obviously ain't Canada, and I would also rule out Europe, because by and large the roads suck, there are more accidents, and the driving is like a bumper car ride at the amusement park. But I do like all the Benz... and the wine.

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