Tuesday, December 4, 2007

DMV Director Dies - tought against California DUI drivers

California DUI lawyer news

Robert I. McCarthy, whose aggressive campaign against California DUI - drunk driving led to his resignation as director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles during the Pat Brown administration, has died. He was 86.

A former legislator, McCarthy represented the San Francisco area for 10 years in the Assembly and Senate before an unsuccessful run for state attorney general in 1958. Defeated by Stanley Mosk, who went on to become the longest-serving associate justice on the California Supreme Court, McCarthy was named director of the Department of Motor Vehicles by then-Gov. Brown.

In naming McCarthy to head the department in 1958, Brown said he wanted the 37-year-old San Francisco Democrat to institute a "get-tough policy" to improve highway safety and attack California DUI drivers.

McCarthy took the governor at his word. Under his leadership, the department began instituting suspensions for a number of driving offenses, including California DUI & one-year suspensions for drivers who caused fatal accidents.

In 1959, he announced that the DMV would suspend the licenses of convicted California DUI - drunk drivers for up to six months on a first offense. The new policy was lenient compared with some other states', where licenses were confiscated from first-time California DUI / drunk-driving offenders for as long as two years.

When traffic fatalities fell 10% statewide in the first seven months of California's crackdown, McCarthy concluded that the new policy was saving lives.

The policy was challenged in court by a Long Beach man whose license had been suspended for several months despite a trial court's recommendation that he be allowed to keep it and only pay a fine.

The case wound up in the state Supreme Court, which ruled on June 3, 1960, that the DMV suspensions were legal. By then, an estimated 32,000 licenses had been suspended under the policy promoted by McCarthy.

The crackdown became politically unpopular, however, after it netted a number of prominent and politically connected individuals, Elizabeth McCarthy said.

Brown, who initially had voiced strong support for the automatic suspensions, changed course in 1961 when he signed into law a measure that allowed the DMV to suspend licenses only if ordered by a court.