The federal government appears to be ready to make an important foray into regulating the punishment of convicted drunk drivers, an area that has largely been left up to the states. A measure proposed by Democratic Representative Nita Lowey is aimed at forcing states to mandate the use of ignition interlock devices for those convicted of a drunk driving offense.
The law, which was introduced to the House of Representatives just this week, requires all states to mandate the use of ignition interlock devices for a minimum of six months following a drunk driving conviction. Because Congress cannot actually require states to follow the rule, the mandate would be tied to federal purse strings. Those states that do not comply with the new measure would face the loss of valuable federal transportation funding.
Supporters of the measure, including the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), say that thousands of people die all across the country every day, something that requires federal intervention. Given the thousands of deaths and enormous financial costs, Lowey says that it only makes sense for Congress to use its financial influence to force some state legislatures to fall into line.
Leaders of MADD say that research reveals the use of an ignition interlock device is the best way to ensure drunk drivers do not reoffend. According to the organization, the use of the IIDs reduces the risk of a repeat offense by 67 percent. MADD cites a statistic, disputed by some, which says that drunk drivers, even first-time offenders, have typically driven drunk dozens of times before finally being caught. MADD says that data shows the average offender has driven impaired 87 times before finally being pulled over.
MADD also says that the use of these devices for all offenders has helped reduce deaths, in some cases dramatically. According to some studies, states like Arizona and Oregon saw declines of more than 40 percent in the number of drunk driving deaths after implementing strict ignition interlock laws. Currently, 24 states have passed measures requiring all convicted drunk drivers to use the IIDs.
In Minnesota, the law says that ignition interlock devices are only required for those offenders found with a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher. Though drivers with a BAC less than this amount have the option of signing up to use an IID, it is not required. This means that lawmakers in Minnesota would need to make some changes to the law to comply with Lowey’s proposed measure.
Source: “New Ignition Interlock Legislation Aims To Save Thousands From Drunk Driving Deaths,” by Tanya Mohn, published at Forbes.com.