Atlanta, GA- Last year and the year before, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended all states toughen their DUI laws and make it mandatory for all first-time DUI offenders.  The NHTSA push to make ignition interlock devices mandatory for first offenders is gaining steam and MADD is leading the charge by lobbying lawmakers in many states to introduce tougher drunk driving laws.

An ignition interlock device is similar to the breathalyzer machine police officers use in the field to determine if a driver is drunk. These devices are connected to the ignition of a DUI offender’s vehicle and will keep their car from starting if they have been drinking and their blood alcohol level exceeds the legal limit. Individuals who have these devices are also required to blow into them periodically while they are driving to assure the driver didn’t get someone else to blow into the device.

Currently, there are 20 states that require first-time DUI offenders to install ignition interlock devices, but Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) hopes more states will make ignition interlock devices mandatory for first offenders in all states because they believe these devices will save lives.

In their literature MADD states:

  • The breath alcohol ignition interlock prevents a vehicle from being driven by a drunk driver. If used correctly, the device can substantially reduce repeat offenses.
  • If properly administered, alcohol ignition interlocks could save thousands of lives and give offenders the ability to drive while not endangering the public.

MADD also states:

  • Multiple studies on interlocks for both first-time and repeat offenders show that interlocks reduce repeat drunk driving offenses by an average of 64 percent.
  • Most of the failures of interlocks are legal system failures, where mandatory interlock laws are not enforced and offenders who are sentenced to receive interlocks either do not have them installed or receive little oversight.

MADD is lobbying lawmakers in many states and they are making traction in Alabama, Indiana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. In these states lawmakers have introduced legislation to make these devices mandatory to first offenders for at least six months.

While MADD and the NHTSA think ignition interlocks are a good idea there is some pushback from DUI attorneys and other groups like the American Beverage Institute.

“We believe that judges should be able to distinguish between someone who is one sip over the limit and someone who has had nine drinks prior to driving,” Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute said in 2012 when the NTSB first recommended ignition interlocks. “There should not be a one-size-fits-all penalty for DUI offenders.”

In addition to lumping minor offenders in with serious offenders, installing ignition interlock devices can be costly both for the both the state and the convicted offender. On top of the costly fines and penalties a first DUI offender faces, they must pay to have the device installed into their out of their pockets which can cost hundreds of dollars.

There is also the issue of accuracy; ignition interlocks can incorrectly read a person’s blood alcohol level, especially if the alleged offender suffers from a medical condition such as diabetes. These machines must also be calibrated on monthly basis and those fees can range between $50 and $75 a month depending on the state the offender lives in.