Agencies discuss the use of ignition interlock systems

Recently, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a national road safety advocacy group, has proposed requiring ignition interlock equipment in cars of anyone who has been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). This would include requiring interlock equipment in the vehicles of those who have been convicted of just one DUI. An alternative proposal would place the interlocks only in "hard-core" drunk drivers' vehicles. "Hard-core" offenders include persons with multiple drunk driving convictions as well as those who had a high blood alcohol level at the time of their arrest.

An ignition interlock is a machine that tests alcohol levels in a motorist. A driver blows into the equipment before starting a car. If the driver registers any alcohol in his or her system, the vehicle will not start, even if the alcohol is below the legal limit for driving. Currently, Pennsylvania requires the interlock only for people who have had a second or subsequent DUI conviction. In Pennsylvania, the interlock is required for the first twelve months after a convicted drunk driver has had his or her driver's license restored.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) studied driver records in Washington state before and after it required interlocks for all DUI offenders. The agency found that interlocks reduce the number of repeat DUI offenders. The vice president for research of IIHS made a statement: "An interlock law that covers all people convicted of DUI reduces recidivism by 11-12%."

Some organizations oppose Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's interlock proposals. Not surprisingly, the American Beverage Institute (ABI) feels that installing ignition interlocks in offenders' cars is not very helpful. The ABI argues that because a DUI offender is required to use the equipment for a limited period of time, recidivism can occur as soon as the interlock device is removed from the vehicle. What may be surprising is the stance taken by The American Probation and Parole Association on this issue. The American Probation and Parole Association says that requiring ignition interlocks for DUI offenders is not cost-effective. The organization has determined that installing interlocks for first-time offenders would cost states around $432 million. In Pennsylvania, however, cost is not an issue for the government. In Pennsylvania, the offender himself must pay for all costs associated with the interlock system. If he cannot afford the equipment, he simply cannot drive legally.

Ultimately, each state will have to reach its own decision on the issue of interlock systems, as DUI is a matter of state law. Although the federal government has no constitutional authority to enact DUI laws on non-federal land, the federal government could, however, pressure the states to require interlock systems in vehicles owned or operated by convicted drunk drivers. Such pressure could be exerted by threatening to withhold federal highway grant money from states, which do not require an interlock system for convicted drunk drivers. The federal government used this very approach to entice all 50 states into raising their drinking ages to 21 and to lowering their legal alcohol limits for driving to .08.

Source: USA Today, "Safety group seeks ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders," Larry Copeland, Mar. 5, 2012

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