West Virginia’s ignition interlock program has taken off, thanks to an enlightened law that cuts red tape and keeps drunk drivers off the roads.
Before Senate Bill 434 was passed, all DUI offenders in West Virginia had to wait through a license revocation period before starting the ignition interlock program. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
Now offenders can skip the revocation period, waive their administrative hearing, and start their ignition interlock program right away. They keep their driving privileges, and exchange their license for an ignition interlock restricted one, which allows them to drive only if the device is installed on their vehicle.
The state has benefited from the law. The number of administrative hearings in West Virginia has been cut in half. This frees police personnel, who no longer have to testify at hearings.
Every time such a bill is passed, some people object to the idea of giving drunk drivers a “free pass.” In fact, the pass is anything but free: the program includes mandatory treatment and safety classes. Fines and jail time are also imposed, depending on the severity of the offense. But it is the replacement of revocation by the interlock requirement which makes an immediate difference to public safety. Drivers are prevented from drinking anything before getting behind the wheel.
Revocation might seem like a stiffer penalty, but in truth, about half of all drivers who have a suspended or revoked license continue to drive. And those who drink, continue to drink and drive as well. It’s a choice between a revocation that doesn’t keep drunk drivers off the roads, and an interlock program that does.
Since 2008, when West Virginia first implemented a program that required all DUI offenders – including first-time DUIs – to use an ignition interlock, DUI arrests have dropped a third, and drunk driving deaths have gone down by 20 percent.
We salute West Virginia’s lawmakers for having the vision to make the right choice. The state has provided more proof that ignition interlock programs work.