MADD leadership and volunteers gathered at the legislature to push for a law requiring ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers.
By Rachel Herzog
If new legislation is successful, advocates for tighter restrictions on drunk driving won’t have to hold their breath for much longer.
In 2007, North Carolina passed a law requiring repeat drunk driving offenders or first-time offenders with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or greater to have ignition interlock devices installed in their cars. Those devices require drivers to pass a breath test before starting their cars.
Now 25 other states have laws that require first-time offenders with a BAC of 0.08 or greater to install the devices. The advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving is pushing to make North Carolina the 26th by calling for the passage of two bills that would do the same thing.
“We’re looking to do this with all offenders first time out of the gate so we can help reduce the amount of people dying here,” MADD’s national president, Colleen Sheehey-Church, said in a press conference at the General Assembly Tuesday.
Not the first time
Why impose the device on first-time offenders?
“A majority of people who kill or injure others in drunk-driving crashes do not have prior conviction,” said Frank Harris, MADD’s director of state government affairs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, convicted drunk drivers have typically driven while impaired at least 80 times a year before being apprehended for the first time.[pullquote_right]Get notifications of new NC Health News stories to your newsfeed – “like” us on Facebook today! [/pullquote_right]“When you consider that for a first-time offense, it’s really not their first time,” MADD volunteer Luke Marcum, a police officer, said. “We want to eliminate the likelihood that they’re going to turn around and do this again.”
This is the second year MADD has tried to get this bill passed in North Carolina, Marcum said, adding that it already has a lot of support from the law enforcement community.
How it works
According to a study by the private nonprofit Transportation Research Board, 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive with a suspended license.
“The ignition interlock is not necessarily a harsher sanction,” Harris said. “It’s a more effective sanction.”
An ignition interlock allows people to drive but eliminates the possibility they drive drunk while the device is installed.
“We totally understand that an ignition interlock may not be a silver bullet, but it is the best technology that we have today,” Sheehey-Church said. “It’s something that can help teach someone how to drive sober.”
The device contains a breathalyzer, which the driver must use to prove their sobriety before starting the car. It also requires a running retest, which the driver must blow at random intervals, typically about five minutes after the car is started and about 40 minutes to an hour later.
The process takes about 20 seconds, and the device gives the driver a few minutes to pull over for retests.
Worth the cost
According to the CDC, interlocks are effective in saving lives and reduce drunk driving repeat offenses by 67 percent.
The devices cost $2.50 per day to lease from an interlock vendor, or more than $900 for the year their license would be suspended. The convicted drunk driver pays for their own device, and if they can’t afford it funds from other interlock users cover the cost.
“If you’re arrested for a DUI in North Carolina today, you should probably go see your banker and get you a personal note for about $10,000,” DMV and law enforcement consultant Mike Robertson said. “You’re going to pay an attorney, you’re going to pay insurance, you’re going to pay for an interlock device.”
But while people generally aren’t thrilled about the expense and inconvenience, they may find interlocks helpful in the long run. Bryce Little, market coordinator for the North Carolina-based interlock provider Monitech, said for some people they serve as a safety net from letting alcohol control their lives.
“People need to get to work, they need to go and do things,” he said. “So what they’ll do is they’ll get an interlock if they get a DUI, and they’ll have to use it.”
“It can really help them get back on the road, help them get back in a place where they would like to be,” Little said.
House Bill 877 was referred to a judiciary committee on April 15, and Senate Bill 619 was referred to another judiciary committee on May 7.
“I think the caucus supports it, and I think that there will be some work to do to get some minor roadblocks dealt with,” said Rep. Jonathan Jordan (R-Jefferson), one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “I think we can do that.”