Vermont Explodes the Myth of Hard Suspension for DWI

Ihard-suspension-mytht’s a persistent myth, and one that is responsible for a lot of pain, misery and death: the myth that suspending a driver’s license will prevent him or her from getting behind the wheel.

Revoking driving privileges is a standard method of dealing with drunk driving. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, and Vermont has just passed a law to use a much better method of ensuring sober driving: ignition interlocks.

Up to now a driver arrested for DWI could apply for an ignition interlock – a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – only after a 30 day “hard” suspension. The new law lets them apply for a device immediately and start driving as soon as it’s installed.

The reason: the Vermont Legislature has awakened to the fact that license suspensions don’t work. More than half of suspended drives get back behind the wheel before they are legally allowed to, and many of these illegal, uninsured drivers are impaired as well.

The new law will require a 90 day suspension upon arrest, but a driver can get back driving privileges with an interlock. A first DWI conviction can result in another 90-day suspension, but once again, the offender can drive with an ignition interlock.

The interlock device keeps a vehicle from starting if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .02 or more. It cannot stop a moving vehicle, however.

Compliance-Based Removal: Ensuring Sober Drivers Stay Sober

Another excellent feature of Vermont’s law is compliance-based removal. The offender must show a full 90 days’ compliance to have the device removed. That means no failed tests. The idea is that an offender must prove that he or she is able to separate drinking and driving.  Anyone who cannot make that separation for 3 months is clearly not ready to remove the device.

Vermont is a rural state, as Vermont DMV Chief of Driver Improvement Chauncey Liese stated in a recent interview. Rural states have special challenges for those trying to prevent drunk drivers: long distances combined with lack of public transport make it more tempting to disregard very sensible DWI laws. Faced with those temptations, hard suspension becomes a weak tool for keeping drunk drivers off the road. Vermont has faced the fact that suspensions just don’t have the power to keep roads safe.

Vermont’s new DWI law goes into effect July 1st, and the state should soon see the effects of a comprehensive all-offender ignition interlock law: reduced collisions, injuries and deaths by repeat DWI offenders.

Maryland has passed a similar law, which will go into effect in October. That will make a total of 27 states that mandate ignition interlock devices for all people convicted of drunk driving. Hats off to Vermont for climbing aboard and taking part in an important, life-saving trend in road safety.