New Massachusetts Ignition Interlock Bill Would Put State in Anti-OUI Forefront

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(image: blog.mass.gov)

The problem with drunk drivers is that they get back behind the wheel. AAA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), among other road safety organizations, believe that they must be stopped, and they know the way to do it.

Ignition interlocks, or car breathalyzers, are ordered by most states for at least some drunk driving offenders. They prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has beAAen drinking.

AAA and MADD want everyone in Massachusetts to know what ignition interlocks do, and why the devices should be mandated for all drunk driving offenses, including first offenses. They support Senate Bill 1895, which lets an OUI offender swap a suspension for an ignition interlock.

Suspensions don’t work – ignition interlocks do

License suspensions are the first recourse for courts when dealing with drunk drivers. The problem is, they don’t get results – half to three-quarters of suspended drivers end up getting behind the wheel. Every day drivers are arrested for ignoring their suspensions. A great many drunk driving collisions involve drivers who are suspended at the time.

Currently, Massachusetts gives drivers convicted of a first-time OWI a six-month suspension. MADD and AAA support Senate Bill 1895, which raises the suspension to one year, but with the choice of installing an ignition interlock as an alternative to the suspension. Among the advantages of this strategy:

  • The offender can drive, but will not be able to do so after drinking, so others on the road are protected.
  • The offender can drive to work, school, and also obtain counseling and rehab, if necessary. A driving ban can make these impossible, leading to more problems and more drunk driving.

Considerations, considerations

There are always people who object to ignition interlocks as an answer, despite the recommendations of those who deal with drunk driving every day. Among the objections

  • It’s not punitive enough. True, it doesn’t “hurt” quite as much as prison, but imprisonment is expensive and is not proven as a preventive measure for OUI. In any case, the object should not be to make the drunk driver “hurt” but solve the problem of drunk driving. An interlock does a lot toward that goal.
  • It costs the offender money.  There is a fee for the device leasing, as well as monthly monitoring and calibration. It amounts to about $900 a year.  Having the fee paid by the offender is generally considered a good deal for the state. However, there are concerns about people who can’t pay. Some states offer indigent programs to help some offenders with the ignition interlocks fees. Such programs are still much cheaper than dealing with the problems caused by drunk drivers, whose crimes increase court and law enforcement costs.
  • The devices can be bypassed or tricked. This is a common objection by those who aren’t familiar with the devices. Interlocks require regular re-testing while driving to prevent offenders from asking a friend to start the car. Cameras can be added to record the breath test, ensuring that only the offender is using the device. And attempts to bypass or tamper with the device are logged and set to authorities.

Currently exactly half of U.S. states have laws mandating ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders. If 1895 is passed, Massachusetts will be the twenty-sixth state to hop on the bandwagon and advance the country’s fight against drunk driving. We hope that good sense prevails and the considerations are seen as a small part of the big picture.

Fingers crossed for Massachusetts and its progress from OUI punishment to OUI prevention.