While at first glance mandating ignition interlocks for all offenders might seem like a good way to get drunks off the road, a closer look reveals that a more targeted approach to drunken driving is required.
Because interlocks are expensive (both for theoffender and the state), intrusive and prone to technical failures, this penalty has typically been reserved for the hard-core DUI offenders who cause the vast majority of alcohol-related fatalities.
The hospitality industry works with traffic safety advocates to require these devices for repeat offenders and for those caught with high blood alcohol contents (0.15% or above) on their first offense. USA TODAY’s plan would force judges to order low-BAC, first-time offenders — even those just one sip over the legal limit (and occasionally under the limit) — to install interlocks.
A 120-pound woman can reach the legal limit of 0.08 after two 6-ounce glasses of wine over a two-hour period. Under USA TODAY’s proposal, if she drove she would automatically be punished with an interlock for behavior that, according to numerous studies, is equivalent to driving while talking on a “hands-free” cellphone.
Mandating ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders is a one-size-fits-all approach that would eliminate a judge’s ability to distinguish between offenders who drive after two drinks and those who’ve consumed 10. Think speeding laws. Speeding is a major cause of fatalities on the highway. Yet we don’t punish someone going 5 miles over the speed limit the same way as someone caught driving 30 miles over the limit.
Furthermore, this broad mandate pulls our focus and our resources away from ensuring that hard-core offenders are complying with interlock laws — currently only24% of offenders comply with interlock orders. Expanding interlock mandates to marginal first-time offenders spreads resources so thin that it becomes financially impossible to enforce these laws.
Based on estimates from the American Probation and Parole Association, it would cost the country more than $373 million a year to ensure that all offenders comply with the proposed law. Because states don’t have the resources to enforce such sweeping mandates, the law is simply going unenforced.
We need to marshal our resources and target hard-core drunks with legal mandates. Leave the marginal first-time offenders to the discretion of judges.
— Sarah Longwell