PROVIDENCE, RI – The Rhode Island House this month approved legislation that would require ignition interlock use for repeat DUI offenders and for drivers who repeatedly refuse to take a chemical sobriety test.

The bill also would expand current law so judges may impose ignition interlock use on first-time offenders of DUI or chemical test refusal. However, ignition interlock use would not be mandatory for first-time offenders unless the offender’s blood alcohol limit was above .15% (almost twice the legal limit).

Similar legislation (2012-S 2838A) has been introduced in the Rhode Island Senate by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).

Under current state law, an ignition interlock may be part of a sentence imposed on those convicted of drunken driving more than once within a five-year period.

“The greatest benefit of ignition interlock is that it protects the public from a person with a history of making bad decisions about getting behind the wheel drunk,” said House Majority Whip J. Patrick O’Neill (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket), the sponsor of the bill (2012-H 7849Aaa). “It’s not merely punitive. It has the very practical effect of stopping drunk drivers before they can start their cars, to prevent them from hurting others or themselves.”

Under the legislation, a first-time DUI conviction would carry, in addition to other existing penalties, six months to a year of interlock use when the license is reinstated. A first-time chemical test refusal would carry one to two years of the ignition interlock. The bill maintains the current practice of mandating longer sentences for refusal convictions than for DUIs.

Those convicted a second time of DUI within a five-year period would get a one- to two-year interlock sentence, and subsequent DUI offenses would get two to four years. For refusal, a second offense would draw two to four years of interlock, and subsequent offenses would get four to 10 years.

The legislation would require the convicted person to pay the cost of installing the system, plus a $100 administrative court cost. The bill would also require proof of installation, as well as regular monitoring of the system.

Additionally, the bill would make it a misdemeanor to tamper with the system, to ask someone else to use the system to start the car, or for the sentenced person  to drive a vehicle without it. Violations would be punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. That penalty would also be applicable to anyone who breathes into the system to start the car for the person sentenced to use the interlock.

Prior to removal of the interlock requirement, the Division of Motor Vehicles would review each driver’s driving record, and could impose up to another year of interlock use if he or she is found to have not complied with interlock requirements.

Supporters of the bill include Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and the Division of Motor Vehicles.