T   he timing was perfect.

Last Wednesday, state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam, had introduced legislation that would increase the penalties against drunk drivers with multiple convictions.

And then on Thursday, I was told by a longtime acquaintance that he had been arrested for DUI back around Christmas. It was his first arrest for DUI, he said, though he admitted he had driven while under the influence of alcohol many times in his life, but had never been caught. He'd always considered himself lucky.

He is but one of about 2,400 York countians who are arrested for DUI each year, and tens of thousands more who drink and drive, but aren't caught doing it.

There is a story to be told here, and a lesson to be learned if we'd all pay attention to it.

So I'm going to tell it with the hope that it'll sink in with someone, or more than one someones, with a history of drinking and driving.

For the purpose of telling this story, let's call the subject of it "Fred." Fred is 70 years old -- old enough and smart enough to know better than to drink and drive.

Around Christmas, Fred and some friends had been out having a good time at a York-area social club. He'd had plenty to drink, he admitted, and as the night wore on he knew he had to get some food in his stomach if he hoped to avoid a hangover the next morning.

So in the wee hours after midnight, he got in his car and headed in the direction of an all-night restaurant on Route 30. Within about two blocks of the restaurant, he ran a red light while making a right turn.

The police officer had him dead to rights.

Looking back on it now, Fred says he's glad he got caught. Never mind the hassle of it all. Never mind the drunk driving class he had to attend. Never mind the penalties and the money he's had to spend. Never mind that he had to hire a lawyer to represent him. Never mind the embarrassment of an arrest and the black spot on his driving record.

Never mind all of it except for one thing: He knows how awful he'd feel if he'd been involved in an accident and had injured or killed another person.

It's a lesson learned, he said. It'll never happen again.

Yeah, I know. Famous last words. How many times have we heard someone say they've learned their lesson, only to drink and drive again, and again, and again?

So time will tell, I guess, for Fred.

In the meantime, House Bill 400 sits in the House Transportation Committee. They're mulling it over.

If it's put up for a vote and passes, it'll mean more stringent penalties for someone caught drinking and driving multiple times. That, by the way, is a fairly common occurrence in York County and beyond.

"Impaired driving is a problem that needs to be taken more seriously in our justice system," Gillespie said. "In particular, we need to toughen our stance against repeat offenders when it comes to drinking and driving."

And that's what Fred would become if he gets caught drinking and driving again -- a repeat offender.

So it behooves him to pay attention to what Gillespie and 17 co-sponsors in the state House are trying to do.

Gillespie's bill would increase the punishment for a DUI offense involving injury or property damage when an individual has a prior conviction of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence.

"House Bill 400 was prompted by discussions with local authorities following an incident a few years ago in my district which involved drunk driving and loss of life, the second such offense for this violator," Gillespie said.

"Until we can change the mentality of those who believe it is OK to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel, we must deal with those who are already guilty of doing so and make this behavior a deterrent."

Fred's been mighty lucky that he'd been drinking and driving for many years and never got caught.

He was lucky his first DUI arrest didn't involve an accident, an injury or a death.

But his luck could run out. His next arrest for DUI, if there is one, could land him in the middle of the HB 400 legislation if someone is injured or killed or if there's property damage.

Like I said, there's a lesson to be learned here.

By Fred, of course.

And by us all.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.