Is Annie’s Law Finally Getting Close to Passing in Ohio?

Annie Rooney of Annie's Law, requiring ignition interlock devices
Annie Rooney

One of the great disappointments noted by Ohio’s road safety advocates is the failure to pass – several times – of Annie’s Law. The law, also known as House Bill 388, recommends to judges that they include ignition interlocks when sentencing OVI offenders. An ignition interlock is a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The law is named after Annie Rooney, a Chillicothe attorney who was killed by a drunk driver in 2013. She was only 36. The woman who hit Annie had prior drunk driving convictions. And that is the point of Annie’s Law: had that woman been using an ignition interlock, Annie Rooney might be alive today.   

Legislators are no strangers to the law – it’s been before them a couple of times, and both times the bill was left to die. There are a few reasons for the reluctance to pass Annie’s Law:

Misguided leniency. There is a theory that a first-time OVI offense is not a serious crime. Offenders deserve a break, and making them breathe into an ignition interlock is too stiff a punishment. People that subscribe to this theory prefer fines and suspension. The fact is, an interlock is not a punishment, it is a measure designed to prevent a drunk driver from repeating his or her crime. The device is not harsh on offenders at all, especially given the fact that a first-time OVI is indeed a serious crime. Driving a car or truck while impaired is an incredibly dangerous act.

License suspensions don’t work: drunk drivers continue to drive, which is why the interlock was invented in the first place.

Misguided severity. There are those who think that the last thing we need to do is let drunk drivers get back in their cars. To them the device sends the wrong signal: now that you’ve driven drunk, you can drive again provided you have this device. The mantra of the tough-on-drunk-driver contingent is, “Suspend their license and get them off the road!”

The sad fact is that 50 to 75 percent of suspended drivers ignore the prohibition and drive. Only an interlock ensures that the public is safe.

Money. Of course, anyone who profits from alcohol sales will be against a device that restricts drinking, no matter what the cost to society. We should ignore the voices of advocates and lobbyists who don’t have the greater good in mind.

All-Offender Ignition Interlock Laws: A Success Story

If Ohioans want to know whether HB 388 is a good idea, they only have to look to other states which now require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses over .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). There are 25 such states, and Maryland is about to sign the law which will make all-offender laws the majority trend. The reason states are jumping on this bandwagon ignition-interlock-madd-quote is that the devices work: a recent MADD report states that “an ignition interlock is the safest, most effective way to stop a drunk driver from becoming a repeat offender.”

Since Ohio first adopted ignition interlocks in 2008, the devices have stopped more than 108,000 occurrences of drinking and driving – over 16,000 of them drivers with a BAC of .08 or over. The driver who ended Annie Rooney’s life – and many of the drivers who have taken other lives in Ohio while drinking and driving – could have been stopped with a simple hand-held device which tests a person’s sobriety before allowing them to turn the key.

It’s Ohio’s turn now. The Ohio house is about to vote on Annie’s Law. If you’re a resident of the state and you agree that it’s time to end repeat drunk driving there, contact your representative and let them know that you support HB 388. Half the country has done as much for their citizens. It’s too late for Annie Rooney, but not for Ohio, whose citizens deserve the same effective road safety laws that are saving lives in other states.