Schwarzenegger mulling ignition lock program

September 10, 2009 6:05:27 AM PDT
A pilot program to require alcohol breathalyzer sensors in the cars of convicted drunk drivers will start in Alameda County as soon as Governor Schwarzenegger signs a bill the legislature passed Wednesday. But Thursday morning, a political war in the capitol may put the brakes on it.

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On one hand the bill requiring ignition breathalyzer devices for drunken drivers has been a success, unanimously passing the state assembly Wednesday. But getting the governor to sign it is where the political drama begins. Governor Schwarzenegger has been vetoing dozens of bills, doing so because he says he wants lawmakers to stop ignoring priority issues such as state water supply and prisons.

If the governor does sign this bill, it would force anyone convicted of driving under the influence to install a special ignition lock on their cars. Drivers would first have to blow into a breathalyzer, if it detects any alcohol on the driver's breath, the car will not start.

The six-year pilot program would start next July in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties and could eventually become state law in 2016.

The alcohol industry opposes the legislation -- and wants it limited to people with more than one DUI conviction because of the huge cost to enforce it. But supporters say use of the ignition interlock devices in other states are reducing repeat DUI offenses dramatically and that it will save lives. California statistics show that more than 200,000 drivers are convicted each year of DUI's and those drunken drivers cause around 38,000 collisions each year, causing injuries in most. On average over 1,000 people are killed by drunken drivers on California roads.

Right now California courts have the choice to require the ignition breathalyzer lock devices for first-time or repeat offenders. But a pilot program testing it further won't happen unless the governor signs the bill and a spokesperon says he hasn't decided yet whether he will.

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