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.