New D.C. DUI Laws Combat Drunk Driving

Mayor Vincent Gray signed two bills which will toughen D.C.’s drunk driving laws. One bill addresses ignition interlock devices, which are machines installed into vehicles that will block a car’s ignition from starting if the driver is over the alcohol limit, which is set at .02%.

The second bill is related to the admission of breath requirements and whether certain evidence is admissable in court.

Under the previous law, the DMV could not recommend a driver use an ignition interlock device until after two convictions. The new law makes first-time DUI offenders eligible for the ignition interlock device.

The District will also begin using new breath-testing machines which feature digital readouts and ID scanners.

One of the bill’s signed also includes updates to the city’s procedures for administering the tests, which means more quality-control checks which should improve accuracy of the machines.

Frank Harris, a representative for MADD, believes these changes are going to improve DUI enforcement and keep drunk drivers off the road. He said, “”It’s one less loophole that a defense attorney can throw out there, one less roadblock that a defense attorney can throw out.”

Washington Sets New Ignition Interlock Device Law

Washington alcohol ignition interlock devices are being equipped to take a photo of the person providing the breath sample. Starting Jan. 1, all alcohol ignition interlock devices are required to have a camera installed into the driver’s side of the vehicle. The measure is intended to prevent someone who may not be driving the vehicle from providing a breath sample.

The new law is in reaction to several incidents where people have tried to trick the ignition interlock system. With the driver in view of a camera, having someone else pass the breath test for them is not an option.

Washington State Patrol Sergeant Ken Denton said, “We’ll be able to refer that with a photograph, hard evidence of the person who is having his children blow into the device and they could get additional jail time as a result.”

The camera and ignition interlock device data is sent to Washington State Police. Sgt. Denton said Washington is the first state in the union to mandate the cameras for the interlock devices.

The NTSB Recommends All States Should Require Ignition Interlock Devices

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that all states update their DUI or DWI laws to require the ignition interlock device for all convicted drunk drivers, even first-time offenders. Currently, only 17 states require the interlock device for first time offenders. The NTSB completed a special investigation report on wrong-way driving collisions, of which more than half involved drivers impaired by alcohol. One of the study’s conclusions states, “New countermeasures to alcohol-impaired driving, as well as renewed emphasis at the federal, state, and local level, are needed.” Also: “The installation of alcohol ignition interlocks on the vehicles of all driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenders would reduce accidents caused by alcohol-impaired drivers.” The NTSB is is an independent federal investigative agency consisting of only about 400 employees and 5 board members. They have an annual budget of nearly $100 million.

The NTSB have pushed for widespread use of ignition interlocks for DUI/DWI offenders for many years. For this recent recommendation, the board cited a new study that found 360 people are killed each year in wrong-way driving crashes, and that 60% of these wrong-way drivers involved alcohol. The report emphasizes that seven of the nine wrong-way driving crashes had drivers with a BAC exceeding 0.15%. Additionally, 9% of those drivers had a previous record of a DWI conviction within the last three years.

The report had specific recommendations to the 33 states that do not currently mandate use of the ignition interlock devices for all DWI offenders, and also the District of Columbia and Puerto Rice. The recommendation specifically states that their governments should “enact laws to require the use of alcohol ignition interlock devices for all individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenses.

The NTSB strongly endorsed continuing development of a “passive alcohol-detection technology” called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS). The DADSS would prevent drivers with alcohol in their systems from starting their vehicles if the system detects alcohol with its breath- and touch-based sensors. The NTSB has recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety would together to accelerate the widespread implementation of these technologies.

An opponent to these measures is Sarah Longwell, The American Beverage Institute’s managing director. She says the interlock devices need to be reserved for “hardcore” offenders, or those whose DUI or DWI involved a very high BAC (above .15%) or repeat offenders. She argues that first-offenders with blood alcohol levels less than double the legal limit need to be treated separately than those with high BACs or who have previous offenses. Longwell said, “You don’t punish somebody going five miles over the speed limit the same way you do somebody going 50 miles over the speed limit.”

If the DADSS systems continue to develop their technologies and become widespread, Longwell surmises that it would “eliminate people’s ability to have a glass of wine with dinner or to have a beer at a ballgame and then drive home.”

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, states with DUI and DWI laws that require interlock devices for first-time offenders include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Missouri’s new laws will not be fully enacted until 2013.

NHTSA Announces that Drunk Driving Fatalities Dropped in 2011

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is celebrating a historic milestone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released new data showing that the number of drunk driving fatalities in 2011 fell by 2.5% compared to 2010. The number of people killed in drunk driving accidents (DUI) in 2011 was 9,978, and for the first time this number is below 10,000.

The number of people killed in drunk driving crashes in 2010 was 10,136. The 2011 fatality rate also outpaced the 1.9% decrease in overall highway deaths. MADD National President Jan Withers said, “This drop in deaths is an important milestone in our nation’s ongoing fight against drunk driving and is further validation that MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® is working. MADD urges state lawmakers to take advantage of recently passed federal funds available for states requiring all convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device.”

According to the NHSTA, the costs of alcohol-related vehicle crashes is estimated at $37 billion annually. The number of fatalities in 2010 equated to one person being killed every 51 seconds in an alcohol-related crash.

Many states will now require the ignition interlock device for repeat DUI offenders. In some cases, even first-time offenders may be ordered to install the device in their vehicle. Late in 2012, Alabama joined many other states by reforming their DUI laws and requiring these devices for certain drunk drivers.

MADD began the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® in 2006, and since the inception of this program the number of drunk driving fatalities has dropped by 27%. The main components of the campaign includes encouraging law enforcement efforts to set up sobriety checkpoints, pushing lawmakers to require ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers, and supporting the development of technology of breathalyzers and blood analysis to test blood alcohol concentrations.

Florida Reconsiders Alcohol Standard for Ignition Interlock Devices

The state of Florida has one of the highest thresholds of blood-alcohol levels for a driver who has a court-ordered ignition interlock device in their vehicle. The ignition interlock device will prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver’s alcohol level is measured as too high, and Florida’s standard for the devices is set at .05, which is nearly the legal limit of .08. These devices are often used to deter DUI offenders from future drinking and driving.

The new proposed standard is .025 which is more “in line” with national standards, according to Julie Jones, the executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. She is pushing for legislation that would lower the level for these devices.

Under Florida law, a convicted drunk driver must install the ignition interlock device in their vehicle if they have multiple DUI convictions, if they had a very high BAC (above .15), or if there was a minor in the vehicle at the time of their DUI.

Ignition interlock devices can carry a number of fees, including:

  • $12 interlock fee
  • $75 for installation
  • $72.50 for monthly monitoring and calibration
  • $100 refundable deposit or a $5 monthly insurance charge

Florida statutes require the devices to be installed on a first-time DUI offender if court-ordered. A second-time DUI offender must install the device for at least one year, or two years if they had a high BAC or minor in the vehicle. A third-time DUI offender is required to use the device for 2 years, and a fourth-time DUI offender is required to use the device if they have four convictions or more under the condition of a hardship license.

NY Lawmakers Want Ignition Interlock Devices in All Buses After String of DWI Incidents

A third bus driver has been charged with DWI this month in New York, after crashing into a tree while children were on board. In response to the string of dangerous drunk driving antics, New York lawmakers State Senator Charles Fuschillo and Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice immediately called for new legislation requiring an ignition interlock device in all buses, which would prevent a person with alcohol in their system to start the bus.

The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Fuschillo and supported by Rice and Assemblyman David McDonough, would require all New York buses manufactured after July 1, 2013 to be equipped with an ignition interlock device. The estimated costs for these devices, as estimated by the lawmakers, would cost between $750-$1,500 per bus.

In just one month, there have been three incidents involving school bus drivers allegedly driving drunk. The October 3 incident involved a Long Island bus driver who was transporting five children home when he crashed his bus into a residential home.

In the latest incident, school bus driver Robert Stundis was pulled over when his mini-bus swerved due to a blown front tire. He was pulled over by police, and a half empty bottle of vodka was found in the bus, and his BAC registered at .23, almost three times the legal limit. He had made his last stop less than an hour before he was stopped by police. If the law passes, New York would be the first state in the nation to require the use of ignition interlock devices on school buses.

MADD Responds to Increase in Traffic Fatalities in 2012

Traffic deaths rose 9% in the first half of 2012, an increase that broke a 5-year downward trend of automobile fatalities in the United States. The preliminary data cannot yet be explained by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who said the report had not examined the causes.

MADD responded to the report by reiterating their belief that all convicted drunk drivers should use an ignition interlock device, MADD National President Jan Withers said, “MADD has a plan to eliminate drunk driving once and for all and states must do their part by passing all-offender ignition interlock laws.”

Withers pointed to the data that ignition interlocks work to prevent drunk driving, she said, “There is no longer a debate on interlock effectiveness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 15 other peer-reviewed studies, have confirmed that interlocks reduce repeat drunk driving by two-thirds.”

Congress funded a $20 million ignition interlock incentive grant program last July as part of MAP-21. States can receive special funding for interlock programs if they have legislation that requires all convicted drunk drivers to get an interlock device.

Because offenders and not the states pay for the interlock program, Withers says “there are no more excuses for states” to not implement this legislation.

Only 3 out of 10 Convicted DWI Offenders in New York Install Mandatory Ignition Interlock Device

Since 2010, all drivers convicted of DWI in New York must use an ignition interlock device on their vehicle for a minimum of six months. The device will not allow the car to start if alcohol, which can be as low as .025%, is detected in the driver’s breath. This zero tolerance policy started as a provision under New York’s “Leandra’s Law”, also known as the Child Passenger Protection Act.

State government records are showing that many convicted DWI offenders are evading the issue of installing an ignition interlock device on their vehicle, and a review of the records since the law was implemented two years ago show that as many as 23,000 motorists have avoided the installation of the device, often by simply selling their car or signing ownership over to a family member.

But convicted DWI offenders are still operating vehicles without the device, and in some cases while they are intoxicated. Some are still driving their original vehicle and some are being caught driving their friends’ cars.

Case in point: Nicholas Santaniello of West Seneca was convicted of DWI and complied with the law by having the ignition interlock device installed in his vehicle. The device requires monthly calibrations to check proper operation and to document any ‘fails’ on the device. For one of these calibrations, Santaniello arrived in his friend’s car, and Santaniello’s car was driven by his friend. Law enforcement was tipped off and when they arrived and tested Santaniello for alcohol, they discovered he had enough alcohol in his system to prevent his car from starting through the device. He was charged with operating a vehicle without an interlock device and operating a vehicle in violation of a restricted license. The friend was charged with facilitating operation to a person court-ordered to use an interlock device and operating without a license.

The compliance with the new ignition interlock device law has been just 30%. Each county in New York has an agency which monitors compliance and informs judges about the drivers who refuse to abide by the rules, or drivers who have failed to start their vehicle with the device.

State lawmakers are considering options on how to address the loophole with the law. Long Island Republican Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. has suggested that offenders who do not participate in the interlock device program wear “transdermal alcohol monitoring devices” such as the ankle bracelet.

Gov. Cuomo has successfully pushed for tougher drunk driving legislation recently, and tighter restrictions on licensing is a way the administration is handling repeat offenders.

New, innovative technology, such as SmartStart’s ignition interlock devices with Photo ID modules, can be a way to skirt the issue of friends helping friends bypass the device nefariously.

Georgia Bill Allows for Greater Driving Privileges with Ignition Interlock Device

Georgia has been overdue for DUI law reform, and in April the State Senate expanded SB 236, an Act which allows repeat DUI offenders to have more flexibility in their driving privileges.

Georgia suspended the licenses of two-time DUI offenders for 12 months, but the bill has reduced that to a minimum of 4 months. If convicted within a 5-year period, offenders can obtain a limited driving permit if they meet all requirements, including the installation of an ignition interlock device on their vehicle for at least 8 months.

The new law will allow offenders to drive to and from their place of employment, school, or substance abuse treatment facility, and will allow for greater autonomy while completing their probation. The court may exempt the offender from the requirements of the ignition interlock device limited driving permit if the court can determine that the requirements would put undue financial hardship on the offender.