State Senator Aims to Curb Drunken Driving With Ignition Locks

State Sen. Jerry Hill has long crusaded against drunken driving

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images/Steve Eason

    A California legislator wants to require repeat drunken drivers to install Breathalyzer-like devices that test blood-alcohol level and lock car ignitions if motorists' levels are too high.

    State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo in the San Francisco Bay Area, has introduced the bill to require ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders.

    At a Friday press conference in Redwood City, Hill was joined by California Highway Patrol officials and representatives from several other law enforcement agencies, as pictured below. Hill promoted his bill requiring people convicted of a second driving-under-the-influence offense to install and use the devices for one year.

    "It makes no sense that ... you can have eight or nine DUIs and you can still get a valid driver's license," Hill said at the conference. "It's time to do something about that."

    The bill would also require the offender to comply with ignition interlock device calibrations every other month before full driving privileges are restored. A third DUI conviction would result in the ignition-lock installation and use for two years; a fourth or subsequent DUI conviction would require use of the device for three years, if the bill passes.

    This blanket legislation has been vigorously opposed by the alcoholic beverage industry, but alcohol-makers support restrictions for people who have registered exceptionally high blood-alcohol levels, the Los Angeles Times reported.
     
    An ignition interlock device is connected to a vehicle’s ignition and requires a breath sample before the engine starts. The device prevents the car’s engine from starting if the device detects a blood alcohol level that exceeds a pre-set limit.

    Under state current law, installation of these devices is voluntary for repeat offenders. According to Hill's office, only about 20 percent of those who have a choice of installing the device -- or instead driving on a restricted license -- opt for ignition-locking installation.
     
    Hill's legislation would require repeat DUI offenders to complete a special ignition lock program in addition to completing the DUI prevention course required by current law. Under current law, second-time DUI offenders must complete an 18-month DUI course; third-time offenders or more would have to do a 30-month course.

    In 2009, the most recent year in which conviction data is available, there were 161,074 DUI convictions in California. Of those, 117,642 - or 73 percent -  were first time offenders, while 43,432 - or 27 percent - were repeat offenders. The same year, drunken drivers killed more than 1,200 people and injured about 26,000 in California.

    Earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all people convicted of drunken driving should have ignition interlock devices installed in their cars to prevent them from operating their vehicle while intoxicated.

    The NTSB said that legislation requiring ignition interlock even after the first DUI -- even for drivers who are "only a sip" over the legal limit -- could be a major factor in preventing collisions. On the day after Christmas, AAA joined the NTSB inn calling for IID installation for anyone convicted of drunken driving.

    Today, 17 states require ignition interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders and at least 24 states require ignition locking devices for repeat offenders. As of this year, about 279,000 ignition interlock devices were installed and operating in the United States, including 24,000 in California, according to statistics provided by Hill's office.

    Hill has long been a crusader against drinking and driving.

    In 2010, he authored an assembly bill,which authorized California judges to revoke licenses for repeat DUI offenders for up to 10 years. The law went into effect Jan. 1 has the potential to take as many as 10,000 drivers off the road each year.

    Last year, Hill authored a bill to crack down on underage drinking on party buses. The law goes into effect in one week, and requires chaperones on party buses when passengers are age 21 or younger and enacts penalties for bus drivers and companies that don't comply.