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Congressional Bill Seeks to Broaden State Use of Ignition Interlock Devices

February 01, 2012

WASHINGTON – House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has introduced a provision in the House transportation bill that would offer additional highway funds to states that require installation of ignition interlock devices in vehicles of all drivers convicted of a DUI. 

This provision, part of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, is already stirring controversy. Opponents include a restaurant industry trade group, the American Beverage Institute. Supporters include Mothers Against Drunk Driving. 

Fifteen states already require all convicted drunk drivers to use the devices.

"While drunk driving remains the primary threat to American families traveling on our roadways, we are closer than ever to making sure no family must endure the pain of losing a loved one to this 100-percent preventable crime," said MADD National President Jan Withers. "Chairman Mica and Ranking Member Rahall are to be commended for the interlock section of this legislation which validates MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving through its strong support of ignition interlocks."

An ignition interlock is a breath test device linked to a vehicle’s ignition system. When a convicted drunk driver wishes to start his or her vehicle, the driver must first blow into the device. The vehicle will not start unless the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is below a preset level. 

In a press release issued this week, the American Beverage Institute argued that laws mandating ignition interlocks for all offenders “deny judges the ability to distinguish between a driver one sip over the limit and high-BAC, repeat offenders.” 

"The majority of states have decided not to enact these laws because they deny judicial discretion and ignore the root cause of today’s drunk driving problem — hard core alcohol abusers," said ABI spokeswoman Sarah Longwell. "Before moving forward with this highway bill, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee should amend the interlock mandate to apply to the hardcore drunk drivers who cause the vast majority of alcohol-impaired fatalities and restore judicial discretion in the cases of those with a lower BAC level." 

The ABI also argues that the proposal would be too costly to implement.

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