A bill that would require all convicted drunk drivers to install ignition interlock devices passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.
In 2011, 257 people died in alcohol-related crashes in Tennessee, representing nearly 27 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state.
“Research shows that ignition interlock devices are one of the most effective ways to keep drunk drivers from continuing to drive drunk,” said state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, the bill's sponsor. “Unfortunately they’re significantly underused across the state.”
Interlock devices are small devices attached to a car's steering wheel with a tube that the driver must breathe into before the ignition will start. The newest ignition interlock technology makes it easier for courts to require DUI offenders to use the device, and many new devices include cameras to ensure another person does not provide the sample for a convicted offender.
Beavers' bill requires the interlock device to include this feature.
Currently, the device is required for anyone convicted of driving under the influence who registers a 0.15 percent blood- or breath-alcohol level. If the proposed bill becomes law, though, that level would decrease to 0.08 percent.
The offender is responsible for the cost of the device, which typically costs between $100-$200 for installation plus a monthly rental fee that ranges from $70-$100.
Beavers and state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, sponsor of the House version, proposed the 2010 bills responsible for the existing 0.15 requirement.
“This is the natural progression of what they had initially accomplished,” said Flint Clouse, executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Tennessee.
“MADD urges the legislature to advance this lifesaving legislation because requiring convicted drunk drivers to use ignition interlocks has been proven to reduce drunk driving, save lives and prevent injuries,” said Jan Withers, MADD national president.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, requiring interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers reduces recidivism by 67 percent.
The National Transportation Safety Board and American Auto Club recently lent support for requiring interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers.
The NTSU’s recommendations follow the July 2012 enactment of Surface Transportation Reauthorization legislation, known as MAP-21, which includes several drunk-driving reforms, including providing incentive grants to states that adopt all-offender ignition interlock laws.
“I really don’t see a down side to [SB 670],” said Crpl. Ray Justice, administrator for Wilson County’s DUI intervention program. “I think it’s probably a two-fold aid to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
It can act as a deterrent, and it can reduce the number of drunk driving incidents.
“The average first offender has been on the road 80 times drunk before their first arrest,” said Millie Webb, Tennessee native and former president of MADD. “This legislation is a solution to a deadly problem.”