Pennsylvania Legislature Considers Controversial DUI Bill

A Pennsylvania State House member has introduced legislation that would require an ignition interlock device be installed on all cars manufactured for sale in the state, starting December 31, 2008. In addition, vehicle owners would be required to install such a device on all existing cars by the end of 2009.

The bill has been roundly criticized for its expense, its manipulation of Pennsylvania DUI statistics and for its failure to acknowledge that it is not illegal to drive after drinking responsibly.

The author of the bill introduced it to the House Committee on Transportation based on stories he had heard about college binge drinking and figures he had read on the number of alcohol related deaths in the state. The anti-drunk driving organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, states that Pennsylvania has the fourth highest number of alcohol related fatalities in the nation, though the ranking drops to 23rd when one factors in population.

The bill’s author was apparently unaware of the cost of ignition interlock systems, which would be paid for by vehicle owners. When told the cost would range between $700 and $1,200, he acted surprised and indicated that he might be more willing to accept amendments to his proposed legislation.

Organizations like the American Beverage Institute, which promotes “responsible consumption of adult beverages,” have spoken out against the bill as being over-reaching. The law would require an interlock device even if the vehicle owner did not drink. Typically ignition interlock devices are calibrated to disable a vehicle when .025% blood-alcohol content is detected. That level could be reached by a 170-pound male after consuming two beers in one hour. Pennsylvania law establishes .08% BAC as the threshold for being legally intoxicated.

Opponents feel that lawmakers are responding to pressure being put on them by organizations like MADD and by auto manufacturers. Several manufacturers, including Toyota and Volvo, are currently researching ignition interlock devices with an interest in making the systems part of their vehicle fleet.

Even other Pennsylvania State Legislators have expressed reservations about the bill, citing the expense and certain requirements. The author responded by hoping the bill initiates hearings on drunk driving and alcoholism.

A similar bill, that limits the scope to commercial vehicles like trucks and buses, is being debated in the New York State Legislature.

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