Most people would say they favor harsher punishments for drunk driving. But when it comes to keeping impaired drivers off the road, the most important thing is having laws that work.
During testimony at a recent DC Council Transportation Committee hearing in favor of laws to eliminate road deaths, Mothers Against Drunk Driving State Legislative Affairs Manager Frank Harris supported increased use of ignition interlock devices, which are mechanisms that test the driver’s blood alcohol level and keep a car from starting if the driver is under the influence.
The District barely uses its current ignition interlock program. Right now, only nine people in the District have one, which is a much lower rate than in Maryland or Virginia. Harris said relying on the devices more would be more effective than current penalties.
Revoking licenses, Harris said, is a “hope for the best” policy: there’s a risk DWI offenders will drive anyway. With interlock devices, there’s a higher chance offenders drive soberly.
The bill currently being proposed for DC would require two-time offenders and offenders with particularly high blood alcohol concentrations to use a device. According to Harris, if DC were to require all DWI offenders to install an interlock device for at least six months, a federal incentive grant from NHTSA of around $200,000 could cover the cost of the program.
25 other states, including Virginia, have such a requirement for first-time offenders.
Interlock devices cost a little less than $3 a day. While most people who are ordered to use interlock devices have to pay for them, most states require manufacturers to provide devices to people who can’t afford them, a model DC could emulate.