California Assembly Passes Ignition Interlock Pilot Program

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California is in the midst of what is probably the most serious fiscal crisis of any state in the union, but the California Assembly can act decisively if properly motivated.

The assembly was motivated this week when it passed a bill requiring ignition interlock devices in all vehicles of owners convicted of a second DUI offense in four California counties. The vote crossed party lines and basically eliminated them - the final tally being 56-0 in favor.

The pilot program would begin in July 2010 and run through 2016. At that point, it could become a DUI law across the state if deemed a success.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is still deciding whether or not he will sign the bill.

An ignition interlock requires a driver to blow into a device that measures alcohol content in the expelled breath. As little as a single drink will render the vehicle useless.

"We have the technology that we know works," said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, who sponsored AB 91. "This bill can save literally hundreds, maybe thousands of lives."

In an article for the San Jose Mercury News, Gary Richards points out that 4,000 people are killed annually while driving in California, and 25% of the related accidents are caused by drunk drivers.

Statewide, 200,000 motorists face DUI convictions each year, and 25% of those convictions involve individuals with prior convictions for driving with a blood alcohol level that exceeds the state's limit of 0.08%. Drunken drivers are also the cause of almost 40,000 collisions in California annually, injuring nearly 25,000 in the process.

California is poised to join the growing number of states who require ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders. Eleven states require ignition interlock devices for a first DUI offense. Proponents of the technology point to dramatic drops in repeat DUI offenses, including a 70% drop in West Virginia and a 60% drop in New Mexico.

The bill has been supported by the California Highway Patrol, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other state safety organizations. The American Beverage Institute has opposed the measure, arguing that such a penalty should only apply to those with multiple convictions already on their record.

"We believe a judge should have the discretion on whether or not a first-time offender deserves an interlocking device," says Sarah Longwell, a spokesperson for the ABI. "We think they should be punished, but we don’t think they should be punished the same way as hard-core and repeat offenders."

How long the driver would be required to use an ignition interlock would vary. First DUI offenders would carry a duration of five months with the device, unless someone was injured during the offense, which would increase the device requirement to a year. A second DUI offense would carry a minimum sentence of a year with the ignition interlock, an injury would double that.

Under current DUI law, California courts can require the devices for first-time offenders or repeat offenders at their discretion.

Source: San Jose Mercury News


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