Iowa’s 24/7 Alcohol Monitoring Law: Will It Cut Drunk Driving?

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iowa passes 24-7 alcohol monitoring lawIowa’s governor has signed Senate File 444 which, among other driving safety provisions, introduces a new program – 24/7 alcohol monitoring – to help fight drunk driving. Starting on July 1st, counties who wish to can participate in a program which requires people convicted of drunk driving to travel to a monitoring center where their breath will be tested for alcohol. If they are found to have been drinking, they are jailed immediately for up to 24 hours.

The idea of the program is to impose immediate consequences for drinking, which some research has shown works better than the more distant threat of a court appearance.

While the law will take effect in July, the program probably won’t get going until next year. And even when it does, there are doubts it will have a strong effect on the state’s drunk driving, for a couple of reasons:

  • So far only one county is partaking. A few others might hop on the bandwagon, but the vast majority of Illinois counties haven’t shown interest in 24/7
  • Not all OWI cases will require 24/7 – just repeat offenses, or first offenses in which the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 1.5 or over. A DUI incident in which property is damaged or people are harmed also would call for 24/7 monitoring, though it would be up to a magistrate to make the final determination.

Ignition Interlocks Still Required

One thing that the program gets right is that ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – are still required along with the monitoring. And this crucial – a breath test at a monitoring center only proves sobriety at that moment. Ten minutes later an offender can drink and then drive. But an ignition interlock actually prevents the offender from starting a vehicle and driving under the influence. That’s why interlocks save lives.

24/7 alcohol monitoring has its place, but it is always as an adjunct to ignition interlocks. Monitoring can help an offender get control of a drinking problem and deal better with life. But ultimately, it’s the ignition interlock that keeps the drunk driver off the road and saves innocent lives.

Iowa legislators  who are truly concerned about rising fatalities on Iowa’s roads should look to strengthening the state’s ignition interlock law and better enforcing interlock compliance. Those are the moves that will really pay off in saved lives and prevented injuries.

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