At Issue: Ignition Interlock: Good News, Bad News

Three states recently rejected legislation requiring ignition interlocks for first-time, low-BAC drunk driving offenders: Maryland, Kentucky and Iowa. Meanwhile, some county government officials in New York are now railing against the inclusion of language mandating ignition interlock for all DWI offenders in the Child Protection Passenger Act passed last year. The bill provides stiffer penalties for intoxicated drivers with children in the vehicle. The mandatory ignition interlock for all DWI offenders goes into effect in August; county officials are speaking out against the cost of the equipment and monitoring requirements, with some calling for an amendment so the law applies only to repeat and high-BAC offenders. Minnesota lawmakers adopted a similar strategy when amending that state’s ignition interlock bill recently.

That’s the good news. The bad news, according to the American Beverage Institute (ABI), the Washington, D.C.-based hospitality industry lobbying group, is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plans to hold two dozen focus groups to investigate public perception and attitudes about ignition interlock. According to Sarah Longwell of ABI, the purpose of the focus groups is to assess ways to manage public perception in order to steer the nation toward acceptance of ignition interlock devices in all vehicles. NHTSA has made a request for funding for the focus group program.

We’re at an interesting juncture on this issue. Some legislators and communities are recognizing the impact of ignition interlock mandates for all offenders and are rejecting that notion. At the same time, the federal government is conducting hearings on the Highway Bill, one version of which calls for mandatory ignition interlock for low-BAC, first time offenders and NHTSA is forwarding its agenda of universal interlocks. For more information about ignition interlock — the march toward universal mandates and the potential impact on the hospitality industry — visit ABI’s site,