Sunday, January 4, 2009

States Unleash New Ignition Lock Laws

The brave new world of DUI enforcement.

Starting this month, drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated in at least six new states will face a hi-tech hurdle to repeat offenses: ignition interlocks. After a high profile national campaign, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other organizations convinced several state legislatures to pass laws mandating the dashboard installation of small ignition interlock device activated by a breathalyzer.

It’s amazingly inconvenient, “ David Malham of the Illinois MADD group told Associated Press. “But the flip side of the inconvenience is death.”

Will high technology really help keep drunk drivers off the streets and highways? Malham, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, insisted that “it’s not about changing human nature, it’s about science interfering and preventing reckless behavior.” Maltham also said he is looking forward to technology that will be able to sniff a car’s interior, scan the eyes of drivers, and test sweat on the steering wheel before allowing the driver to turn the key.

In addition to Illinois, states that passed laws requiring the use of ignition locks for drunken driving convictions of varying degrees include Nebraska, Colorado, Washington, and Alaska. Other states with similar but unevenly enforced laws on the books include South Carolina, Arizona, New Mexico, and Louisiana.

Illinois is attempting to work around the program’s most obvious flaws—the convicted drinker could drive someone else’s car, or get someone else to blow into the breath-monitoring device—by instituting heavy penalties for non-compliance if the driver is caught cheating.

Lined up in opposition to ignition lock legislation, thus far, is the American Beverage Institute, a lobby group for restaurant owners. In the AP article, the Institute’s Sarah Longwell objected to the fact that states might decide to apply the laws to people other than repeat offenders—to anyone who, on any given night, blows a 0.08 or a 0.10, the common denominators of alcohol intoxication in most states.

Sounding a bit more like the National Rifle Association (NRA) than perhaps it intended, the Beverage Institute offered a dire vision of a slippery slope: “We foresee a country in which you’re no longer able to have a glass of wine, drink a beer at a ball game or enjoy a champagne toast at a wedding. There will be a de facto zero tolerance policy imposed on people by their cars.”

My modest prediction: A tangle of state lawsuits and questions over civil liberties, the more so since many of the laws are first-pass efforts and subject to interpretation.

Photo Credit: HTB

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