Devices pitched as alternative to suspensions in drunk driving cases
BOSTON >> Road safety advocates on Monday argued for a bill they said would restrict drunk drivers from repeating their offense while allowing them to continue driving sober.
The bill backed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA Northeast would allow a judge to impose an ignition interlock device in place of license suspension. Current law provides certain periods of interlock requirements in certain circumstances.
"Ignition interlock devices are far more effective than license suspension keeping drunk drivers off the road," Mary Maguire, of AAA Northeast, told the Transportation Committee. "That's because studies show 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers simply continue to drive with a suspended license, but with an interlock device installed an alcohol-impaired driver simply cannot drive."
Interlock devices check the amount of alcohol on a driver's breath before and during use of a car, according to Colleen Sheehey-Church, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who said 118 people were killed in drunk driving collisions in Massachusetts in 2013.
The bill (S 1895) filed by Sen. James Timilty, D-Walpole, would also eliminate hardship licenses that allow offenders to drive within certain time periods but without the breath-checking devices, according to Anne Lynch, a lobbyist pushing passage of the bill.
Lynch told the News Service the Registry of Motor Vehicles would be able to extend the imposition of an interlock device if data from the machine shows non-compliance, and she said many new interlock devices now have cameras and other technology to prevent subversion of the system.
An official who works with Lynch on behalf of the Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers, said the bill essentially allows for a 1-to-1 swap of an interlocking device in place of license suspension.
Sheehey-Church, who is from Connecticut, told the committee her 18-year-old son Dustin was killed by a drunk driver.
"He's gone because somebody chose to drink and drive," Sheehey-Church said. She said, "Losing a child is the worst thing that can ever possibly happen."
Rep. Kenneth Gordon, D-Bedford, asked about the estimated $2.50-per-day cost for the device and how indigent defendants would be able to afford roughly $900 per year. Lynch noted that $2.50 is less than the cost of a drink.
Maguire, of AAA Northeast, said drunk drivers drive drunk an average of more than 80 times before they are caught.
The state's threshold of .08 percent blood alcohol percentage that constitutes drunk driving matches the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's .08 blood alcohol concentration, the level of drunkenness that the group says is reached after binge-drinking: about four drinks over two hours for women and five for men.
Frank Harris, MADD's state director of government affairs, confirmed that the .08 constitutes binge-drinking under the federal definition and said Massachusetts has some of the "weakest ignition interlock laws in all of New England."
Sheehey-Church told the News Service the devices are about the size of a cell phone and in addition to monitoring whether the driver is safe to start the vehicle, they also require a breath-test while the vehicle is in operation. Lynch said that if a driver fails to comply with the mid-driving test, the car's horn will start beeping and the lights will start flashing.
Sheehey-Church said the devices could work on a Dodge Pinto in addition to more modern cars.
Asked about the possibility of requiring all cars to be equipped with the technology, Sheehey-Church said, "That's an auto-industry decision that has to go between federal government and auto-industry."
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