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May 14, 2009

"Car breath tests for 1st-time DUI offenders?"

The title of this post is the headline of this article from my local Columbus Dispatch.  As a few excerpt show, this short piece appeals to my affinity for technocorrections, for data-driven sentencing reforms, for alternatives to incarceration and for getting tougher on drunk driving:

Some Ohio lawmakers and Mothers Against Drunk Driving want the state to require anyone convicted of a drunken-driving offense to blow into an alcohol tester before his or her car can start -- the first step, opponents say, in requiring all drivers to submit to such a test.

MADD's national president, Laura Dean-Mooney, testified at the Ohio Statehouse yesterday in favor of a bill that would require ignition-interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders.

She said the 10 states that have such laws have had significant decreases in the number of drunken-driving accidents and deaths.  DUI-related accidents have decreased 35 percent in New Mexico since that state required ignition interlocks in 2005, she said.

"Despite the fact that this life-saving technology exists, it's not used very often," Dean-Mooney told the Ohio House's Criminal Justice Committee. "Ignition interlocks would reduce recidivism and save some of the 13,000 lives that are lost in drunk-driving accidents every year."

Last year, 466 people died in Ohio in DUI-related accidents, according to the State Highway Patrol.  About 9,000 others were injured.... Ohio law prescribes an ignition interlock for second-time offenders for whom judges restrict driving privileges.

In my view, unless and until there is empirical evidence indicating that ignition interlocks are ineffective, the answer to the question in the title of this post should be an emphatic YES.  Even If Ohio might only get half the accident decrease in New Mexico, the data still suggests we could save perhaps as many as 100 lives and thousands of injuries from simply requiring those convicted of drunk driving to prove they are not repeating their offense when they again get behind the wheel.  Unless one cares a lot more about some value other than innocent lives, I do not quite understand the basis for serious opposition to this proposal.

Of course, there was opposition expressed at the Ohio Statehouse yesterday, but those voicing the opposition is tellingly a group, the American Beverage Institute, that sees a loss of potential profits from this potentially life-saving bill:

A total of 27 states require repeat DUI offenders or first-timers with extremely high blood-alcohol concentrations to blow into the testers before their engines can start, said Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute.

The trade group of alcohol-serving restaurants opposes efforts to require ignition interlocks for first-time offenders. "This bill mandates that people one sip away from 0.0799 receive a punishment normally reserved for high-(blood-alcohol-content), repeat offenders," Longwell told the House committee. "While both have committed a crime, they are very different types of criminals."

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers:

May 14, 2009 at 10:09 AM | Permalink


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"Of course, there was [support] expressed at the Ohio Statehouse yesterday, [and] those voicing the [support] is tellingly a group, the [newly-powerful manufacturers of the breath testing equipment] that sees... potential profits from this potentially [Liberty threatening and industry sponsored] bill."

Fair enough?

Posted by: David | May 14, 2009 10:17:39 AM

For once Doug and I agree on a techno-corrections method. As a NM resident I supported this bill when it was before the legislature and I think, frankly, it has exceeded even what I had hoped for it.

I thought then and I think now the libertarian concerns are overblown. If it were the case of being applied to all people I would be opposed to it and it would not have made it though the legislature here. The proper antidote to such a slippery slope is the vigilance of the people.

And I don't have a problem with the fact that a private business is making money off of it. That in itself should be neither here nor there. The question is whether interlocks are good public policy and that they are.

BTW, I found it interesting that the article didn't mention the one significant problem we have had with this approach. Namely, that drunk people will find anyone and I mean anyone to blow into their device for them so they can drive. There have been cases where parents have got their young kids to blow and then driven off with them (without a safety seat of course). Quite sad. I suspect that this is the reason why MADD wants passive devices. (Which I would oppose).

Posted by: Daniel | May 14, 2009 10:40:35 AM

Hey, David. Why exactly do you see these devices to be "liberty threatening" as long as they work well? Do you view laws that criminalize drunk driving (or even speed limits or age limits or license requirements) to be "liberty threatening"? Driving is a privilege, and one which causes lots of harm to innocent persons if driving is not subject to reasonable safety restrictions. What is so threatening to liberty if persons who have violated drunk driving laws and been convicted now have to prove each time they get into the car that the will not do it again?

It is very fair to note that there are private economic interests supporting a safety technology. But I say thank goodness for that, because I trust the marketplace to do a better job creating and improving these technologies than would the government. But government can and should help these efforts if/when the industry cannot convince other industries (i.e., the car makers) to add these safety devices themselves.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 14, 2009 10:52:05 AM

I am a defense attorney with somewhat of a libertarian streak. Yet I don't understand why we don't make these devices standard in every car, just like seat belts. We don't require seat belts to only be used by people who have had an accident. This device is nothing more than an added safety measure for automobiles. So long as the device is proven to be accurate and reliable and not have many maintenance problems (i.e. work as is supposed to), I don't understand at all how it could be viewed as "liberty threatening,” unless of course you view driving drunk as a protected liberty interest (and if you believe that then that’s another debate entirely).

Posted by: every car | May 14, 2009 11:32:58 AM

"In my view, unless and until there is empirical evidence indicating that ignition interlocks are ineffective"? Huh? Until I prove a negative, you should get your way?

In my view, unless and until there is empirical evidence indicating that banning cars is ineffective, we should all walk.

Not that I'm against you, but isn't it our side that needs the empirical evidence?

Posted by: matt | May 14, 2009 11:56:18 AM

I don't understand why we don't make these devices standard in every car, just like seat belts.

It is probably still too expensive to be practical as a universal requirement. We do not like to admit it, but even life-saving expenditures have to pass a cost-benefit analysis. The legislature does not pass every conceivable law that could save lives, no matter how costly.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 14, 2009 12:10:40 PM


While we are at it, why don't we require everyone who goes to an establishment that sells alcohol for on premises consumption check their keys at the door and be forced to take a breathalizer test before getting them back?

Posted by: Allan | May 14, 2009 12:35:23 PM

Living as I do in a state with no public transportation, I see this as an incredible benefit to defendants. Lengthy driving bans for DUI are an extreme hardship as defendants have no alternative way to get to work or school. It seems to me that everybody would win by making these devices mandatory for first time offenders: they would prevent re-offending by keeping a technological eye on those who have failed to obey the law in the past, while (perhaps) significantly shortening or or doing away with driving bans.

Posted by: Talitha | May 14, 2009 12:35:46 PM

"I don't understand why we don't make these devices standard in every car, just like seat belts."

Sitting in order to drive is not an optional behavior. Drinking before you drive is. That's the difference.

Posted by: Daniel | May 14, 2009 12:40:31 PM

Matt, the empirical evidence is already on our side if we can believe the New Mexico data cited by the FAMM president. More generally, there is lots of evidence to indicate that driving safety measures of various sorts --- from seat belts, to car seats, to speed limits, to a drinking age of 21 --- have done a lot to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries. I just want to add this additional measure unless/until there is some evidence that it is either much too costly (like walking everywhere) or ineffective.

Tellingly, the Alcohol group is neither asserting that these ignition locks for drunk drivers is either too costly or ineffective. Instead, they argue that the law may be the first step toward some future law that might be too costly. Well, let's pass this law and then watch out for future laws that will be too costly. In the meantime, we will all be that much safer on the roads.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 14, 2009 1:40:58 PM

Better idea:

Let's make alcohol illegal. Then no-one can drive drunk. That will work.

Oh, wait a second, we tried that, with limited success.

Posted by: Allan | May 14, 2009 1:50:15 PM

Now you're going to make me go hunt for it and I don't have time today, but I think there are indeed some evidence-based analyses showing the cost-benefit calculation endorses beginning use of ignition interlocks on the SECOND offense.

Sort of like GPS, monitoring and enforcement is more expensive than the equipment itself, and usually (at least in TX) the probationer has to pay for all of it in fees, which has dramatically limited its use because other fines and fees for dwi are already so high.

Since it's cheaper than a jail cell, I think the state should just pony up and pay for ignition interlocks (second offense and up) because it's so much cheaper than incarceration and statistically more effective, particularly when coupled with strict probation in a DWI or similar specialty addiction-oriented court. But first offenders don't have especially high recidivism rates and IMO interlocks for second offenders during their probation period is where a reasonable policy will likely settle somewhere down the line.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 14, 2009 3:33:58 PM

What's wrong with trying out Doug's policy? When you drive drunk, you have shown yourself to be untrustworthy--doesn't society have the right to require verification?

Posted by: federalist | May 14, 2009 4:17:45 PM

Why not place a device to regulate speeders after a speeding ticket?
Geesh, people give me a break.... One more SIN you want to take away! Whats next? Lets find something these MADD mothers like and ban IT!

Posted by: Bob | May 14, 2009 8:43:11 PM

I view them as "liberty threatening" for several reasons: the cost, the way they're required to be combined with probation, and, more importantly, the way they represent a first step toward calls for more widespread use, inspiring even so-called "libertarian... defense attorneys" to seek to make them "standard in every car." I worked as a public defender for seven years and rarely sought these for my clients because of the cost, approximately $50 a month where I practice. While judges frequently waived monthly probation programming fees for truly indigent people, the fact that intoxilocks are administered by private companies means that they're unavailable for poor people. While this may not inspire sympathy, since they obviously found enough money to buy booze, what I see occurring is the beginning of an even more extreme two-tiered "justice" system being created in the area of DUI law here because intoxilocks are used as an alternative to lengthy revocation periods. This means that wealthy people are able to avoid revocations by purchasing this technology while indigent people, who truly need both driver's licenses and jobs, have their licenses revoked and frequently end up with new charges for driving during revocation or suspension.

Where I practice, the law requires the devices to be combined with probation, meaning that calls for widespread use lead to lengthier probation sentences and additional terms added to sentences of probation. While we can debate over whether this is beneficial, our nation's current obsession with incarceration, rather than transforming into the cheaper alternative of probation, also has the potential to expand into a prison/probation culture in which more and not less people are either incarcerated or under the watchful eye of the probation officer/bureaucrat, a condition which infringes on liberty rather than enhancing it.

My biggest fear, though, is that just as many people who won't go near a jail or who've forgotten, as Christians, the importance of "visit[ing] the imprisoned" will, from a distance, without ever talking to a drunk driver in need of treatment and help, will conclude that these devices work without coming near one and will soon be calling for them to be standard equipment for all vehicles, and people.

Posted by: David | May 14, 2009 10:23:42 PM

Prof. Berman takes a Draconian, lawyer gotcha view of the minor infractions of those with assets. He wants to coddle penniless vicious predators, that torture and butcher people for a dollar or for a minute's sex pleasure.

This is the business plan of the New Dominicans.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 15, 2009 7:07:54 AM

When you stop all cars, and test, 10% of people are legally drunk during daytime. Drunk driving may not be enough to cause accidents, in the absence of aggressive, impulsive character. The latter people are the good customer of the lawyer, and are untouchable.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 15, 2009 7:11:38 AM

As mentioned above they should come standard with every car.

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Posted by: order pills online | Feb 15, 2010 5:51:48 AM

These are a great idea but it only takes a volunteer to blow into the reciever and validate the test to get around it, something that those looking to drink drive intentionally will do. hopefully anyone sober enough to pass the test would think better of someone driving when drunk

Posted by: Drink Driving Offence | Apr 29, 2010 7:22:36 AM

Why don't we make these devices standard in every car, just like seat belts and door Locking. IT can be bit costly. But I think it is necessary step we should take. IN face, We can test it one time and check how much it effects on sales..

Posted by: truck rental | Jun 25, 2010 9:41:52 AM

Choose which DUI attorney is the best on your case. Picking the most experienced will have high success rate. Also choose whom the victim is comfortable, along with its service fee. Also check if he or she is a member or affiliated with the National College of DUI Defense. The best solution to avoid and reduce drunken driving fatalities is the willingness to cooperate of the public and reduce drinking when you know that you have a car to drive home.

Posted by: DUI attorney orange county | Aug 20, 2010 12:36:15 PM

Hm, it's a pretty strong idea. Well, it's understandable due to the danger of driving a car while drunk. Still, there needs to be more work on a law such as this, considering how much time and effort would have to be invested on implementing such measures - not to mention the loophole that Daniel mentioned earlier.

Posted by: Kerstin Shed | Feb 28, 2012 1:06:24 PM

Before one can get a driver's license, he must to blow into an alcohol tester before his or her car can start.

Posted by: Mark Harris | Sep 27, 2012 10:07:11 AM

i believe that in every state and nation drunk drivers should be awarded with such offense that can make them feel uneasy to drive as drunk again. it really is dangerous!

Posted by: how to build muscle fast | Nov 5, 2012 3:16:20 AM

So many people are charged with dui and the most common underlying factor is alcohol yet more and more driving under the influence cases are being seen due to the driver being high on cannabis.

Posted by: John Corn | Jan 16, 2013 3:09:46 PM

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