Iowa Bill Shows Legislature’s Confusion About Drunk Driving

ignition interlocks in iowa cause confusionIowa’s lawmakers want to do the right thing. Impaired driving is still an issue in Iowa, and a bill the Governor has promoted, House Study Bill 109, is designed to combat it. But there’s a lot of disagreement over whether it does too little, or too much. The problem is not so much the bill as the legislators, who don’t always work with full knowledge of the problem of drunk driving.

The bill would levy much stiffer penalties on those who use cellphones while driving, which would fall under the category of reckless driving. A driver who injured or killed someone while talking on a phone would face felony charges. So far so good.

However, the bill also mandates twice-a-day alcohol testing for any alcohol-related offense. Here’s where things get shaky.

The purpose of any impaired driving bill is to reduce impaired driving. Forcing offenders to be tested twice a day will reduce their drinking, but it won’t act as true prevention of drunk driving. In any rehab program, lapses occur. A person on alcohol monitoring who lapses can climb into his or her vehicle and drive.

Only ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – will actually keep a drunk person off the road.

Iowa has a fairly good ignition interlock law, but if legislators were to strengthen it, it would boost public safety a lot more than bringing people in for checking twice a day. Here’s what the Iowa legislature could do:

Change the minimum BAC from .10 to .08. Interlocks should be used for all OWIs with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more

Compliance-based removal. Once someone has an ignition interlock installed on a vehicle, it should not be removed until the offender has passed a certain amount of time – 3 or 4 months – without a failed breath test. This ensures that the offender has accepted the burden of responsible driving.

Indigent fund. Not all offenders can afford an ignition interlock. Some states offer financial assistance, which boosts compliance and, ultimately, keeps the roads safer.

Ignition interlocks in Iowa should be available immediately after arrest. Offenders should have the option of demonstrating good faith by installing an ignition interlock before their trial. The public benefits from this measure, which is why the national trend is greater adoption of interlocks right after arrest.

With the right focus, House Study Bill 109 could be a boon to the state, by reducing alcohol-related road deaths via proven measures. That’s what the legislators are after. They just need to look at the research and choose the method – ignition interlocks – that has already proven itself across the country.