According to Time magazine, a federal highway bill moving through congress would require mandatory breathalyzer ignition interlocks be placed on all cars belonging to DUI convicts. The interlocks would require the driver to pass a blood-alcohol level breath test before an equipped vehicle can be started. Currently several states require interlocks for citizens convicted of DUIs, while others require them only for repeat offenders. The highway bill would block federal infrastructure funds to any state that does not approve mandatory interlock laws. Mandatory interlocks have been a hotly-debated topic for some time, but few had expected the old highway-funding canard to be warmed up for the battle.
“The national 21 minimum drinking age and the .08% law [for allowable alcohol in the bloodstream] both resulted from federal highway sanctions. History tells us that this approach works,” say spokesfolks for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Yes, well so was the double nickel. And look how that turned out. But MADD supports the bill, citing New Mexico’s example, where DUI-caused deaths reportedly dropped by 35 percent after an interlock law was enacted.
The other side of the coin? One New Jersey Assemblyman has an interesting perspective on a proposed state interlock law, pointing out that the monthly interlock fee would raise the fines for a first-time offender to over $10,000. Which is likely more than many cars are actually worth. As a result, “one merely has to transfer title ownership of the car to a spouse, child or family friend,” in order to avoid the monthly interlock and its attendant fees.
In Wyoming, lawmakers respond to the charge of interlock loopholes by suggesting that the state should simply impound cars belonging to DUI convicts. Since MADD estimates that DUI is America’s favorite crime, this solution (combined with auctions) might help out the odd budget crisis as well.
In Ohio, where judges are allowed (but not required) to issue interlocks, an editorial points out:
Only 11 states have laws that mirror the proposed federal legislation. That doesn’t mean that 11 states have taken the right approach, or the wrong approach, to DUI offenders. What it means is that only 11 states have had a debate about the pros and cons that led to such a mandate. Ohio’s law allows judges to order the use of ignition interlock systems when granting limiting driving privileges. In other words, Ohio’s law allows judges to make judgments, which is what voters elect judges to do.