Under a proposed law, drivers convicted of DUI who register at least .08 BAC would be required to install an ignition interlock system on their vehicle before they could receive a restricted, Class D license. Current law requires a convicted driver to have registered at least .15 BAC before an interlock device can be mandated.
An ignition interlock is a breath alcohol detection mechanism, like a breathalyzer, that is installed on a motor vehicle’s dashboard. Before the motor can be started, the driver must breathe into the device. The vehicle will not start if the driver’s breath-alcohol level is higher than a preset figure. The device also issues random retests during the operation of the vehicle.
The proposed law, titled Senate Bill 670, is backed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The organization has lobbied aggressively for the bill. According to the organization’s website, nearly 10,000 people were killed and another 315,000 were injured in drunk driving accidents in 2011. The organization has argued that ignition interlocks are critical to preventing drunk driving because a large percentage of convicted drunk drivers continue to operate their vehicle on a suspended license.
According to Flint Clouse, state executive director for MADD, seventeen other states currently require the installation of interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers.
The bill is sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and in the House by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport. The bill has numerous co-sponsors throughout the state. One co-sponsor, Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, has called the bill a win-win. He argues that the bill will allow convicted drivers to continue working, while ensuring that streets are safe and employers are getting sober employees.
Some believe that the new law won’t keep offenders from driving a different car. One co-sponsor, Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, said that this issue is being address and that there could be increased penalties for those caught driving another car, including several months in jail.
The measure has also garnered the support of judges. Sumner County General Sessions Judge Jim Hunter said that the new law could help deal with the flood of DUI cases his court deals with every year. He believes that the proposed law could help those convicted of DUI keep their jobs and maintain somewhat normal lives. He also believes that there are always going to be individuals who won’t follow the law. According to Hunter, the legislature may need to draft a long-term solution to address the state’s rampant rate of DUI arrests.
Many see drunk driving as a chronic problem throughout the state. In one instance, a Tennessee man was sentenced to six years in prison after his 14th DUI conviction. There were 26,340 DUI arrests in Tennessee in 2011, according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation statistics. This is an increase from the 24,154 arrested in 2010. According to statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 16,894 people were convicted of driving under the influence in the state, 3,716 of which were repeat offenders.
I would like to thank Attorney Stephen Higgins for his guidance with this post.