State Senator David Haley wants to revise the current Kansas DUI law, which requires that all drunk driving offenders, including first offenders, must use an ignition interlock during their suspension. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
Haley introduced a new bill – SB 123 – which would allow an offender to “wait out” the suspension without an interlock – in other words, allow the offender not to drive for a year instead of installing the interlock.
License Suspension: A Feeble Measure
The problem with the bill is that license suspensions don’t work well enough to protect the public from repeat DUI offenders. Since 1977 a number of studies have shown that a large percentage of drivers – one study puts it at 75 percent, others at 50 – ignore suspensions at least once in a while. Those with serious alcohol problems will be more likely to drive while suspended. They will be impaired and uninsured.
Letting offenders “wait out” a DUI suspension is an invitation for them to repeat their offense. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), among other road safety advocates, are against a wait-out provision and have mounted a petition against SB 123. Interlocks have been proven to reduce DUI recidivism.
Double Jeopardy – A Feeble Argument
Senator Haley contends that the current law, which specifies a year of interlock, even if one has chosen to be suspended for a year beforehand, is double jeopardy – two punishments for the same crime. But double Jeopardy is intended to guard against more than one punishment when two statutes punish the same conduct. So if a person is charged with both assault and assault with a deadly weapon, a judge cannot impose punishments for both crimes if the defendant is convicted.
In this case, the suspension and ignition interlock are both specified punishments for the same crime, just as fines and jail time are in some cases.
Pass a Stronger, Not Weaker, Kansas DUI Bill
If this Kansas DUI bill gets out of committee and is passed, the state will be reversing a forward-looking drunk driving policy. Instead, legislators should be trying to institute compliance-based interlock removal, in which the device is not removed until the offender has passed a number of months without a failed test.
Drunk driving is a sticky problem. Over the years it has become less fashionable and less common, but it still claims some ten thousand lives every year in this country. Kansas – and every other state – needs to be working on ways to bring down the number of alcohol-related road deaths, not weaken laws that are already saving lives.