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Lawmakers Mull Ignition Interlock Systems For First-Time DUI Offenders

First-time offenders of driving under the influence may soon be required to utilize ignition interlock systems within their cars for one year.

Currently, Pennsylvania law only requires repeat offenders to use the technology for one year. But a new bill would also require first-time offenders, caught with a blood alcohol content level of .10 or higher, to install an interlock device. 

Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) sponsored the bill, which was unanimously passed in the Pennsylvania Senate. Rep. Keith Greiner (R-Lancaster) is looking to pass a nearly identical bill in the House; it is currently in the transportation committee. 

“These laws, as long as they're implemented for first offenders, they will stop people from driving drunk,” said Frank Harris, director of state government affairs for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “They will separate drinking from driving and if they're implemented properly, which we believe Pennsylvania would do with this legislation, they can help save lives.”

More than 6,800 ignition interlock systems are currently in use across the Commonwealth, according to MADD. Over the past 13 years, interlock devices recorded more than 78,000 instances where an intoxicated person tried to start their car in Pennsylvania. 

The system requires the user to blow into a breathalyzer-type device before starting the car. If any amount of alcohol is detected on their breath, the car will not start and the occurrence will be recorded within the system. Harris said even in the event of someone using an alcohol-based mouthwash, the system will prevent the car from starting.

After paying a one-time installation fee of around $1,000 for the 12 months, the user is instructed how to use the device and is required to bring their car in every 30 days to be “serviced.” During the check-up, the device has to be calibrated and all the information is downloaded, showing if any attempts were made to start the car while over the legal limit.

In addition to the initial breathalyzer, the driver is required to take a “rolling retest” every seven to 15 minutes while driving to, verify that they're not drunk. Failure of the test will result in the horn beeping or the car’s lights flashing so law enforcement can pull them over. The devices also come with camera equipment to verify that the user isn’t trying to bypass the breathalyzer test.

“These devices are very important in separating drinking from driving, and that's why having that compliance-based removal aspect to this proposal is so critical, because that ensures that behavior has changed before someone can exit the interlock program they have to have learned how to drive sober,” Harris said.

Harris said a major issue with the current law is that repeat offenders have to wait a full year before they install the interlock system. Not everyone is using public transportation or getting rides from family members during that license suspension period, he said, which begs the question of if they’re driving illegally or continuing to drive drunk.

“It's a dangerous game right now, with just hoping with license suspension," Harris said. "That's why this bill utilizes technology in a smart way that's not tough on these drunk drivers. It allows them to be a part of society, it allows them to drive wherever they want to but in a safe and sober manner."