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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - Robert Livingston thanks God because he can stay sober. But a piece of technology coupled with stiff court penalties is what got him on the path.
“I drank for 30 years,” Livingston said. “I was what they called a closet drinker; didn’t really like to be around people.”
The 61-year-old Soddy-Daisy man had tried to quit on his own for four years before his arrest in April 2012 on his fourth DUI.
He’s been sober since his arrest, thanks to an electronic bracelet that is a constant reminder of what will happen if he takes a drink. He has to stay sober - if he falls off the wagon and is convicted, he’ll face jail time and the loss of his driver’s license.
Attorneys and judges in Hamilton County have increasingly more sophisticated devices that allow people to remain free before trial but still be monitored. And the most talked-about advances in local court monitoring are used to combat multiple-offense DUIs, such as Livingston‘s.
Monitors can detect alcohol nearly instantaneously. They can be programmed to set out exact permissible routes of travel to and from work, school or church.
Mobile phone-based monitoring systems also can trigger “stalker alerts” for domestic violence victims who have protective orders in place.
Monitor managers can even electronically “rope off” areas such as gambling facilities or bar districts to track whether a defendant visited the location.
But beyond the benefit for authorities and offenders like Livingston, these increasingly sophisticated technological tools help protect the public.
A 1995 study by the Transportation Research Board, a division of the nonprofit National Research Council, showed that as many as three-quarters of convicted drunken drivers continue to drive on suspended licenses.
And one-third of drivers arrested or convicted of drunken driving were repeat offenders, according to the federal Department of Transportation. Across the United States 10,322 deaths were attributed to drunken driving in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was 457 more than reported in the previous year.
And drunken-driving arrests are on the rise in the Volunteer State.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol reported 5,728 DUI arrests in 2012, a 43 percent increase from the state’s 10-year low of 3,233 in 2010.
Though state laws restrict driving and eventually revoke a driver’s license after multiple convictions, it wasn’t until 2010, when a change in Tennessee law directed judges to consider multiple DUI offenders a public risk, that pre-trial alcohol monitoring became more commonplace.
Improvements in the technology made monitoring more practical, officials said.
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