A few weeks after the state’s House of Representatives passed a similar bill, the Virginia Senate recently voted 26-13 in favor of a proposed law that would require first-time DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock system installed in their cars.
Under current Virginia DUI law, ignition interlocks are only mandatory for people who have been convicted of more than one DUI offense, according to a report from Patch.com. This system matches the law that is in place in many other states.
The new bill, however, would require Virginia drivers who are arrested for their first DUI offense to have an ignition interlock installed, which represents a fairly strict rule for first-time DUI offenders.
Ignition interlocks, for those who have not had the unfortunate distinction of using them, require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer device before they are able to start the car. If the driver’s blood alcohol content is above .02, the ignition interlock will prevent the car from starting.
The Virginia bill’s journey towards becoming a law has not been easy, as this is the sixth straight year that the interlock ignition rule has been proposed in Virginia’s General Assembly.
According to Kurt Erickson, who serves as the president of the Washington Regional Alcoholic Program, “Virginia’s patience with the more than 29,000 drivers in the state annually convicted of driving under the influence has worn thin.”
Erickson’s point is well taken, particularly because data collected from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does show that almost 30,000 people were convicted for drunk driving offenses in Virginia in 2010.
In Erickson’s mind, ignition interlock devices help stop people from driving drunk. And, if the initial test doesn’t work, subsequent tests while the driver is operating his or her vehicle continue monitoring the driver’s blood alcohol level.
If the device determines that a driver is drunk while driving, the vehicle’s horn will start blowing, and the headlights will begin flashing to attract nearby police officers.
Of course, not every Virginian is excited about the proposed law. Some critics argue that the mandatory use of ignition interlock systems is overkill for first-time DUI offenders, many of whom will avoid drunk driving in the future.
Critics also argue that ignition interlock machines invade individual drivers’ privacy. This argument, however, was ignored by the Virginia Senate, which determined that the public benefit of ignition interlocks outweighs the loss of privacy suffered by individual drivers.
Legislators in Utah concerned about the loss of civil liberties have proposed a controversial bill that would ban the use of DUI checkpoints by police, according to a recent article in The Salt Lake Tribune.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in the Utah Legislature approved HB140, a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. David Butterfield, who argues that the use of checkpoints to catch drunk drivers are an ineffective way of catching dangerous drivers, and unfairly infringe on the civil liberties of Utah residents.
In response, law enforcement officials and opponents of drunk driving have argued that Utah should maintain its system of DUI checkpoints, which they claim helps pull many unsafe drivers off Utah streets.
Butterfield expected to meet strong resistance from many constituents, but he claims that the goals of law enforcement must be balanced by the protection of “constitutional and civil rights.”
To bolster his proposal that his state eliminate DUI checkpoints, Butterfield observes that eleven other states have already banned the practice, and more could soon make a similar decision in the name of civil liberties.
Butterfield also claims that so-called “saturation patrols”—a tactic that varies from checkpoints— generate more arrests than DUI checkpoints, and require fewer police officers. He suggests that these patrols should be used instead of checkpoints.
One police chief in Utah, however, claims that saturation patrols do net more arrests, but they are less effective at catching drivers before they become dangerous.
In his view, checkpoints that detect a drivers’ sobriety through simple visual cues and, in some cases, blood alcohol tests, are much more effective at stopping DUIs before they start.
In addition, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder says that many people were dying at dangerous canyons near Little Sahara and Lake Powell before police started setting up checkpoints at high-traffic times.
In Winder’s eyes, removing checkpoints from law enforcement’s arsenal of DUI prevention tools would not only reduce DUI arrests, it may result in more fatal accidents caused by drunk driving.
Further, Winder observes that the supreme courts of both Utah and the United States have ruled that DUI checkpoints are constitutional, which seems to undercut Butterfield’s argument to the contrary.
Regardless of whose argument will prevail, the bill still has many hurdles before it becomes a law. After passing the House committee by an 8-5 vote, the bill will now head to the full House for a vote.
Even if it passes the House, however, observers believe that it will face a hard time escaping the Utah Senate, which has historically been a strong proponent of aggressive DUI enforcement tactics.
Sometimes, it takes the tragic death of a young victim of a drunk driving accident to convince legislators to enact effective laws against the dangerous practice.
Nevertheless, lawmakers sometimes feel they can honor a victim’s memory by ensuring that similar accidents are prevented in the future. This phenomenon recently occurred in the Oklahoma state legislature.
According to KOCO news in Oklahoma City, the newly minted Erin Swezey Act aims to monitor drivers with prior drunk driving offenses by requiring drivers convicted of a DUI to have an ignition interlock system installed in their car for at least 18 months after their conviction.
In addition, drivers who arrested for a second DUI offense will have to have an interlock device in their car for four years after their arrest. Subsequent offenses will lead to a mandatory five-year period with limited driving abilities.
The law is named after Erin Swezey, who died in 2009 at the young age of 20 after she was struck by a drunk driver going the wrong way on an Oklahoma City turnpike. The drunk driver had previously been arrested multiple times for DUIs and other traffic offenses.
By passing the Erin Swezey Act, legislators hope that DUI offenders will no longer be able to get behind the wheel after drinking.
The ignition interlock devices mandated by the new statute act as a sort of gatekeeper to the car. When an interlock device is installed, a driver must blow into it in order for the device to determine the driver’s blood alcohol level.
If the driver is sober, the car will start. If, however, the driver has been drinking, the interlock device will prevent the driver from starting the car.
The interlock devices are usually installed on a car’s dashboard, and drivers who are required to have the devices will also have a special notification on their licenses about the interlock device requirement.
Typically, interlock devices prevent driving if the driver blows between a .02 and .04. In Oklahoma, drivers are eligible for a DUI arrest if they blow above a .06.
While Oklahoma has been relatively late to join the interlock device movement, statistics compiled by the federal government show that the devices have a profoundly positive impact on the prevention of drunk driving.
According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, interlock devices have been able to reduce repeat DUI offenses by roughly 67 percent. In addition, the federal agency claims that the devices have reduced DUI fatalities by nearly 30 percent.
These figures certainly seem convincing, but they actually may understate the benefits of interlock devices. In Arizona, state officials say that their new interlock program has cut DUI fatalities by more than 50 percent.
Oklahoma officials hope that the Erin Swezey Act, which takes effect this week, will have a similar impact.
Montana is known for its beautiful scenery, wide open spaces, and strong advocacy of personal liberties. Most notably, the state is famous for having the largest per capita gun ownership rates in the United States.
However, despite this affinity for personal liberties, Montana recently passed a new DUI law that some observers are calling too strict.
According to the Billings (Mont.) Gazette, the new law requires DUI offenders to perform breath tests two times a day as they await trial for their drunk driving arrests.
The program, which is only active in Yellowstone County but will likely spread to other counties soon, is intended not only to keep alleged drunk drivers sober before their trial, but to deter potential drivers from getting behind the wheel drunk in the first place.
The article in the Billings Gazette focused on Toni Allison, who was recently arrested for a DUI. After she posted bond, she was able to leave jail, but she has to return two times each day to do a breathalyzer test.
If Allison fails one of these tests, under the terms of the new law, she will be arrested immediately and may face new criminal charges, as well as forfeiture of her bond.
The law, which is named the “24/7 Sobriety Program,” is patterned after a similar regulation passed in South Dakota. It gives Montana judges the discretion to order the daily BAC tests for DUI repeat offenders.
Defendants who are forced to take the daily tests are required to pay two dollars for each test. If they miss a scheduled test, prosecutors are free to issue a warrant for their arrest.
Officials recently tested the new program in Lewis and Clark County, and reported a 99 percent success rate. Other counties are considering adopting an electronic monitoring program, rather than the test-on-site method practiced in Yellowstone County.
While critics of the program claim it is needlessly invasive, legislators in Montana believe that the new law will deter drivers from driving drunk, and that the law is necessary to curtail a practice that is perceived as a major problem on the open roads of Montana.
Montana used to be known for its relaxed driving laws. It was one of the final U.S. states to implement a speed limit, and it used to wear its lack of speed limits as a badge of pride.
Now, however, Montana is following a national trend of cracking down on unsafe drivers, as more than 10,000 people still die in the United States each year as a result of drunk driving accidents.
So, while the new law may be a nuisance to people who are arrested for multiple DUIs, it may be a helpful tool in the fight against drunk driving. At the very least, it will ensure a temporary period of sobriety alleged DUI offenders.