New Montana Ignition Interlock Bill Will Make Roads Safer

montana ignition interlock bill will save livesMontana is considering jumping on a public safety bandwagon that already holds more than half the country. A Missoula legislator has proposed Senate Bill 280, which would give DUI offenders access to ignition interlocks after a conviction. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Currently DUI offenders have their driver’s licenses suspended once they are convicted of drunk driving. Interlocks are only ordered at a judge’s discretion – there is no requirement.

The bill, if passed, would replace suspension after a DUI with an interlock-restricted license. Offenders could drive, provided they installed the device, which would ensure that they were sober behind the wheel.

Why the Montana Ignition Interlock Bill Will Save Lives

There are very good reasons that 29 states have passed laws which let DUI offenders drive with an ignition interlock, and they are as true in Montana as everywhere else.

  • Suspensions don’t work. More than half of suspended drivers, on average, drive despite having no license. They’re on the road illegally and uninsured, and they might well be drunk, if their DUI was the result of a serious alcohol problem. The sad fact is that taking a way a piece of paper does not prevent someone from driving.
  • Interlocks save lives. A recent report from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) stated that interlocks have prevented 2.3 million incidences of drunk driving since the devices have been adopted. Each of those occurences involved a driver who was not able to control a vehicle, and who could have been putting innocent people at risk. Alcohol-related road fatalities drop when states adopt ignition interlock laws, particularly all-offender laws such as the one SB 280 would become.
  • Interlocks let offenders heal. For many, the inability to drive legally means the loss of a job and the inability to fulfill many family duties, such as shopping and picking up kids from school. An interlock lets an offender get on with his or her life. They can get counseling and keep their job. Ultimately this contributes to the stability of society and the return of the offender to responsible driving.

What Interlock Opponents Get Wrong

pass montana ignition interlock bill
Ignition Interlock Device

Whenever an all-offender ignition interlock bill is debated, counter-claims are made from a standard menu of objections. Here’s are the most common ones, and why they are generally misguided:

Interlocks can be bypassed. According to news reports, Representative Barry Usher of Billings made the claim that offenders could easily get around the ignition interlocks by having a friend blow into the device. Perhaps, but the device asks for a re-test every few minutes, so the sober one helping would have to willingly ride with a drunk driver and keep blowing samples – not a very realistic option. It’s possible to borrow a vehicle, but that would mean someone is willingly lending their car or truck to a drunk driver. Again, it happens, but it’s not the norm, and most users comply with the restrictions and only drive sober.

Many jurisdictions employ interlocks with cameras which record the tests. When the data is reviewed, authorities can confirm that the device has not been bypassed. This measure has been successful in preventing attempts at circumventing interlocks. Legislators should consider adding the camera requirement as well.

Mandatory interlocks limit judicial discretion. Judges like to have leeway in sentencing offenders, and a mandatory interlock law would mean that they were unable to give an offender a break if they felt it were warranted. In fact, an ignition interlock is not a terrible punishment – it’s a minor inconvenience for a genuinely sober driver, and a crucial preventive for those who would reoffend.

There is a place for judicial discretion, of course. Last year in Tennessee a law was passed allowing judges to suspend the required interlock – provided they gave a reason why the offender was not a danger to the public. Such laws retain judicial discretion but would leave most interlocks in place, protecting the public.

Montana Needs Ignition Interlocks

A 2016 study by CarInsuranceComparison.com put Montana as the country’s second most dangerous state for drunk driving, with the highest cost per fatality.

The state has a high rate of underage binge drinking, and also for underage alcohol-related crashes. One area in which Montana does not exceed is in DUI arrests. As of 2015, the state had fewer than 300 interlocks installed, despite its notoriety as a haven for impaired driving.

With its many miles of unpoliced rural roads, Montana is an excellent candidate for an all-offender ignition interlock law. The devices would stop repeat drunk drivers who would otherwise never attract a police officer’s attention until they had caused a wreck.

MADD is behind the Montana ignition interlock bill, and so should anyone who believes that it’s time to end Montana’s tenure on the worst-states-for-drunk-driving list.

Support Montana SB 280 and make Montana’s roads as safe as they are beautiful.