California is cracking down on drivers under the influence with new legislation that prevents these individuals from even starting their cars.
On Oct. 11, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two new pieces of DUI legislation. AB 91 creates an ignition interlock device (IID) pilot program in Alameda, Los Angeles, Tulare and Sacramento counties.
SB 598 allows repeat DUI offenders to apply for a restricted license if they install an IID on their vehicles and applies to the entire state.
The IID mechanism is installed in a vehicle’s dashboard. It works like a Breathalyzer. The driver breathes into the device and it measures his or her blood alcohol content. If the driver’s BAC is over a certain amount, the vehicle will not start.
Under AB 91, authored by Assembly Member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), first-time DUI offenders in Alameda, Los Angeles, Tulare and Sacramento counties will be required to install an IID in their vehicles.
“This pilot project can save hundreds of lives,” said Feuer in a press release. “I’m pleased that the Governor agrees that California should require offenders to have these devices installed. This law is an important step in preventing DUI recidivism in our state.”
Under SB 598, authored by Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), repeat offenders all over California can reapply for a restricted license earlier than they previously had been able to if they install an IID on their vehicle.
“Sadly, only a small percentage of people convicted of multiple DUIs are required by court to install an IID on their vehicles to discourage recidivism,” Huff said in a press release. “SB 598 provides one more tool to proactively fight drunk driving.”
This legislation, especially AB 91, may strike some people as overly harsh. However, proponents of the legislation state that IIDs drastically reduce the amount of drunk drivers on the road.
“I took action and signed these bills because we must do everything we can to ensure the public’s safety on the road,” Schwarzenegger said in a press release. “By installing ignition interlock devices we are making it harder for DUI offenders to get behind the wheel while intoxicated and we are working to save innocent lives.”
Sgt. Norm Leong of the Sacramento Police Department supports the new legislation.
“Anything that reduces repeat offenders is a good thing,” he said. “This legislation will reduce injuries and fatalities.”
Huff’s website states that in 2006 in California, there were 23,689 people convicted of driving with a suspended license. Research studies have demonstrated a significant reduction – ranging from 50 percent to 90 percent – in repeated offenses while the devices are installed.
In 2007, drunk drivers caused 53,261 accidents, resulting in the death of 1,501 people.
The Los Angeles Times reported that since New Mexico mandated that first-time offenders equip their vehicles with IIDs, DUI fatalities have dropped 35 percent.
The cost of installation of the IIDs will be the responsibility of the convicted DUI offender and will not be paid for by taxes. The device can cost anywhere from $100 to $200, not including additional charges for maintenance or for having the device calibrated.
Sgt. Ton Phan of the Davis Police Department supports SB 598.
“I’m in favor of ignition interlock devices in general,” Phan said “It’s one way of keeping drunk drivers off the road. The only concern I might have is that someone else could be able to breathe into the device and then the drunk person could drive away.”
According to the official IID website, however, this scenario is next to impossible.
“The device is designed to not let you start your car if you try to use a mechanical device instead of blowing into interlock system, if you have a friend take the test for you or if you try to tamper with the interlock device in any way,” according to ignitioninterlockdevice.org.
Sergeant Phan also supported AB 91, which is not in effect in Yolo County but could be in the future.
“I think AB 91 is helpful, and not overly harsh. First time offenders often become repeat offenders,” he said.
AB 91’s pilot project begins on July 1, 2010 and will extend to Jan. 1, 2016, at which point the Department of Motor Vehicles will report on the project’s effectiveness. SB 598 will be effective July 1, 2010.
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.