Interlock device may be for first offenders

April 14, 2009 5:26:46 PM PDT
Tough new legislation targeting drunk drivers could change the way first time offenders are treated. Those convicted of driving under the influence would have to have a locking device on their ignition requiring a breathalyzer test before driving.

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"Nick Adenhart, whose future, a very promising future, has been ruined because of a drunk driver. Nick is dead," said Assembly member Jose Solorio (D) from Santa Ana.

Perhaps it was the fatal crash that killed Angels Pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others that gave this tougher DUI bill momentum.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee just approved, with bi-partisan support, a pilot program requiring those convicted of their first DUI offense to have an Ignition Interlock Device, or IID, in their cars for five months. Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D) of Los Angeles is championing the move.

"That habitual use of this device assures that they are in a condition in the future to drive sober again," said Assemblyman Feuer.

The program, paid for by grants and the offender, would be tested in five counties where DUI arrests are high: Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Alameda, and Sacramento.

A positive blow for alcohol into the breathalyzer prevents the car from starting. The American Beverage Institute fought hard to kill the bill because it takes away judicial discretion for those not too much over the legal limit.

"When it comes to speeding, for example, you don't punish somebody going five miles over the speed limit the same way you do for somebody going 30 miles over the speed limit," said Sarah Longwell, from the American Beverage Institute.

But California's own DMV concluded the IID's were not effective in reducing DUI convictions or incidents for first time offenders.

Still, there's no denying what might have happened had Assemblyman Feuer been successful in getting the ignition lock bill approved last year. The suspected drunk driver in the Adenhart crash, Andrew Thomas Gallo, already had a DUI conviction and the Orange County District Attorney says he was three times over the legal limit this time.

"If we had this law, those three young people in that car quite possibly would have been alive today. The offender would have an IID as a protection device, not so much as a penalty, but to protect him too," said Mary Klotzbach, from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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