Ignition Locks

States turn on to idea of ignition locks
By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY

More convicted drunken drivers may have to blow into devices that
won’t let them start their cars if they’re intoxicated now that several
states are embracing tougher penalties.

Lobbyist Richard Roth, holds up the ignition interlock device which
keeps a car from starting if the driver has been drinking. By Jeff
Geissler, AP

New Mexico last Friday became the first state to require “ignition
interlock” systems for first-time offenders. The devices, which act as
breath-alcohol analyzers that control a car’s ignition, will be on their
cars for one year. Drivers with four or more DWI convictions are required
to drive with the interlocks for the rest of their lives.

The devices cost the offenders about $1,000 a year.

Until now, they were required only for repeat offenders and for a
maximum of a year.

At the same time, the Senate version of a federal highway spending
bill before Congress threatens to withhold about $600 million in highway
construction and maintenance funds if states don’t subject high-risk
offenders to stiffer sanctions, including ignition interlocks and license

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says 17,000 people are killed and a
half-million injured in alcohol-related crashes every year. Only 18
states have mandatory ignition interlock laws, according to MADD
President Wendy Hamilton.

High-risk drivers include repeat offenders and those convicted of
driving with a blood-alcohol levels of 0.15% or higher. By August, when a
Minnesota law goes into effect, the legal limit in every state will be

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have the option to
make convicted drunken drivers use interlocks, MADD says. More are making
them mandatory, applying the sentence to all offenders or lengthening the

This month, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill that allows the state
to require the device without a court order.

Last year, Washington state began requiring interlocks for first-time
offenders with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15% or higher.

New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, who spearheaded legislation that
bans hands-on use of cell phones while driving in his state, introduced a
bill that would require interlocks on all new cars. A similar measure
failed in New Mexico last year, but others are being proposed in New
Jersey, Connecticut and Washington state.

Tackling the problem

New Mexico, which ranks sixth in the nation in the rate of
alcohol-related car fatalities, is becoming one of the toughest
enforcers. There are 3,000 interlocks on cars in the state, the highest
per capita of any state.

In 2003, 198 of New Mexico’s 439 traffic fatalities were
alcohol-related, according to the most recent government data. It was the
first time since 1998 that the state’s alcohol-related fatalities fell
below 200.

Fighting drunken driving is one of Gov. Bill Richardson’s signature
issues. He has appointed DWI Czar Rachel O’Connor and several task forces
to tackle the problem of repeat offenders and set up drunken-driving
checkpoints statewide.

Source: USA Today

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