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June 14, 2014

Ohio legislature wisely considering move to make ignition locks mandatory for DUI offenders

Though I often advocate against lengthy federal mandatory minimum prison terms, I am not categorically opposed to legislative sentencing mandates when there is good reason to believe that the particulars of the mandate will likely save lives and have a limited impact on human liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Consequently, I was very pleased to see this story in my local paper today, headlined "All drunken drivers may be subject to safeguard," discussing a proposal in Ohio to make ignition locks mandatory for all drunk driving offenders.  Here are the details:

Ohio lawmakers are considering requiring first-time drunken-driving offenders to have an ignition breathalyzer installed on their cars to confirm their sobriety during a six-month penalty period. The law now allows judges to order the ignition interlocks, but the House bill would make their use mandatory. Offenders convicted twice within six years must use the devices.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, cites federal figures that ignition-interlock devices reduce DUI re-arrest rates by 67 percent. About 25,000 first-time offenders are convicted each year in Ohio. The devices would replace a system in which first-time DUI offenders are not allowed to drive for 15 days and then can obtain limited driving privileges to travel to work, school and medical appointments.

“There is nothing to ensure compliance and nothing to ensure sobriety unless they happen to get caught again,” Johnson said. “This allows the offender to continue working and to minimize disruption to his life while ensuring public safety to the extent we are reasonably able to do so.”

A change in the bill last week also would require those charged with DUI but convicted of lesser offenses, such as physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated, to install the machines in their cars....

Only about 5,000 Ohioans, including repeat DUI offenders, are required each year to use ignition interlocks, said Doug Scoles, executive director of Ohio MADD. Twenty states now require their use by first-time offenders. “Requiring the use of ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers will help prevent repeat offenses and, in so doing, save lives,” Scoles said.

The State Highway Patrol reports 341 people died in drunken-driving crashes last year. Seventy-seven people have been killed so far this year, 38 fewer that at the same time in 2012.

The bill is dubbed “Annie’s Law” in memory of Chillicothe lawyer Annie Rooney, who was killed last year by a drunken driver now serving eight years in prison. Her family has campaigned for passage of the bill. Lara Baker-Morrish, chief prosecutor for the city of Columbus, calls the legislation “a very good idea.”

“It does curb the behavior we’re trying to get at, and it has been proven to save lives,” she said. Courts would have to find ways to monitor the increase in ignition-interlock reports on drivers and find funding to ensure devices are made available to those who can’t afford installation and monitoring, she said.

I hope my old pal Bill Otis is heartened to hear of my support for a legislative sentencing mandate. I also hope those who advocate forcefully for rigid forms of gun control and for drug control recognize that that drunk drivers often pose a greater threat to innocent lives and the pursuit of happiness than even drunk gun owners or heroin dealers and that clever technologies, rather than crude prohibitions, may be the most politically wise and practically workable means to reduce these threats.

June 14, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Permalink


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A hundred ways around it, all of which are illegal and would make these guys even bigger criminals.

They have a kid blow into it or press their fingers on the persperation device analyser.


Disconnect it


Leave it running

Or just get a buddy get it started for you.

All of which are poor and unacceptable. Its just another added expense and whoop to jump thru, which these guys dont have the money. Most of which down the line, start selling drugs catchup on $.

Its a bad scene... If these guys would just plan a bit. If your going to drink take ataxi or have someone else drive. Its really not that difficult for most of us. I donot gave a solution for this problem. But I surely am taking no chances when it comes to an owi or even dring with alcohol on your breathe. The balance is against you, if you have a fender bender and alcohol is smelled or tested positive, even if below .08 level.

Posted by: Midwest Guy | Jun 14, 2014 12:14:53 PM

I think there might be ways to limit some of the workarounds but it still is the case that often only the driver him or herself is going to be driving the car. As to "disconnect it," there should be a way around that. There must be a way that if you disconnect it, the authorities are alerted. It is best obviously not to drink and drive.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 14, 2014 12:58:27 PM

they were doing so good till this!

"A change in the bill last week also would require those charged with DUI but convicted of lesser offenses, such as physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated, to install the machines in their cars...."

Sorry but if you want to require an DUI detection device then get off your lazy ass and charge and CONVICT for DUI!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 14, 2014 1:19:20 PM

@Midwest guy

You miss the point of an interlock entirely. An interlock is a not a drunk disabling device but a judge disabling device. NM was the first state to pass an interlock law and the #1 problem we had with repeat drunk drivers was the unwillingness of judges to impose sanctions on them. The logic was that NM is a rural state with zero public transportation infrastructure and that to take away a person's car was to take away their livelihood. So suspending or revoking licenses etc was viewed by judges as pointless because people were going to drive anyway because they needed to earn money to eat.

Interlocks were designed to thwart that logic. Repeat offenders can no longer go in front of a judge and claim that they have no alternatives. They do. An interlock. The Catch 22 between public safety and personal starvation no longer exists. Has this put a stop to repeat DWIs? No, so far this year we already have seen people with a 7th, 10, and amazingly 13th repeat offense but what has changed are judge's attitudes and the public's attitude. 15 years ago these types of numbers would have been met with a helpless shrug. Now, judges are a lot less tolerant because they know that people who are committing these type of repeat offenses are choosing to do so.

The primary purpose of interlocks here in NM was to change a judicial culture--to stop judges from using economic excuses to enable dangerous behavior. Judges are now more willing to order treatment, less willing to accept pleas to lessor charges, and more willing to take people off the streets now that the fig leaf of economic necessity has been removed.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 14, 2014 3:29:35 PM

I am less impressed by this technological "solution" than many law professors. Everybody knows that just like the Cobalt ignition switch, modern technology never fails. It will also fail more often, the more frequently it is used. Just ask probation officers (if you can find a truthful one) how often they receive false positive alerts with GPS monitoring. Yep, the more use (and abuse) of the technology, the more dollars will be transferred to some politicians pocket and the less protective we become of our personal liberties.

Also know that I am not against the use of these devices on REPEAT DUI offenders.

Posted by: albeed | Jun 14, 2014 10:16:43 PM

My view on DUIs is that anyone can make a mistake once and think they're more sober than they are, but second or subsequent "mistakes" are hard to justify. They indicate someone who has either a substance abuse problem or serious lack of control (or, likely both). Given this, it's the second or subsequent DUI that indicates a likely, ongoing problem that Ignition Interlock is designed to stop.

That being said, I don't have a problem with Ignition Interlocks on a first offense (at least for alcohol, with drugs, it's somewhat illogical). After all, even serial drunk drivers had to get their first offense at some point. My only real concern is that the ignition interlock is a legitimately serious expense. I do think statutes need to take into account that cost when deciding what other punishments to impose. Mandatory fines seem somewhat excessive when placed on top of the close to $1000 bill for the interlock system (and the costs of an alcohol/substance abuse class, which many states require).

Although I will point out that some states have abandoned ignition interlocks out of fear that they'll just take their kids to the bar and have them blow into it. Those states are moving towards an ankle bracelet that detects alcohol in your sweat if you've been drinking.

Posted by: Erik M | Jun 16, 2014 11:09:46 AM

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