A big change could be in store for the DUI laws in Florida if the governor signs a new bill that recently passed the state legislature.
House Bill 971 is on Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s desk this week waiting for his signature or his veto. As the governor weighs the decision, outside groups continue to debate the merits of the law.
The question at hand is really whether HB 971 would make Floridians more safe, or whether it will simply put more intoxicated drivers on the road.
Currently, Florida law permanently revokes the licenses of drivers with four or more DUI convictions (note the word “conviction” – a DUI arrest on your record doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been convicted of the crime).
The new bill would allow these drivers to reinstate their license if they passed stringent requirements, including the installation of an ignition interlock system.
An ignition interlock system is a small device that requires a driver to blow into a handheld alcohol sensor connected to the dashboard. The sensor tests the driver’s blood alcohol level. If the driver is under the influence, the device essentially “locks” the car, and will not allow it to start.
There are other conditions for license reinstatement as well:
- No one convicted of DUI manslaughter convicted is eligible for the program
- There is a ten-year waiting period between the previous DUI and the reinstatement of the license
- The driver must not have driven on a suspended or revoked license during the waiting period
- The driver must complete a DUI program within six months of the reinstatement
- For the first year the driver must also drive only to commute to and from work
Critics of the bill have several complaints about the changes to a law they feel currently functions well. First they object to putting multiple DUI offenders back on the road.
Another criticism of the bill is that it could potentially provide big business to the two vendors Florida has chosen to supply interlock ignition systems to the state.
Ignition interlock systems are not cheap, and the full cost must be paid by DUI offender. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle state that total costs come to almost $250 for installation and an additional monthly maintenance fee of $67.50. That’s about $1,000 for one year of service.
Some groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, support the proposed law. With their license already revoked, many drivers with multiple DUIs hit the roads anyway, feeling they have nothing left to lose, proponents of the law say.
The new law will provide an incentive for “good behavior” and, through the use of ignition interlock devices, keep a closer eye on drivers.
In the minds of the bill’s supporters, the close monitoring of former drunk drivers is better than not watching them at all and simply punishing them when they further break the law.
The DUI law changes are only a part of HB 971, which as a whole would impart much-needed changes to the Florida transportation system. The bill is expected to be signed into law.