Universal Ignition Interlock Tied to Highway Bill

A requirement that all 50 states mandate ignition interlock for first-time drunk driving offenders with low blood alcohol content (BAC) is part of the federal Highway Bill introduced on Thursday, June 18. The language of the bill includes penalties for states that do not comply.

Currently, 11 states mandate ignition interlocks be placed in the cars of low-BAC first-time drunk driving offenders; similar legislation recently has been defeated in several states.

Ignition interlocks are breathalyzer devices that test the BAC of the driver and prevent the car from starting if the BAC exceeds a pre-set limit. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a strong advocate for ignition interlock and has a stated goal of making the devices standard equipment in all vehicles. The hospitality industry’s position, as stated by associations including the American Beverage Institute (ABI), Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. and others, is to support ignition interlock for high-BAC repeat offenders.

“The majority of states have decided not to enact these laws because they deny judicial discretion and ignore the root cause of today’s drunk driving problem — hard core alcohol abusers,” said ABI spokeswoman Sarah Longwell. She points to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showing that the average BAC of a drunk driver in a fatal car crash is 0.18 percent — more than twice the legal limit.

ABI contends that the interlock mandate in the Highway Bill doesn’t target the high-BAC repeat offender; instead, it punishes the first-time offender in the same way as the repeat offender.

Editor’s Note: For the on-premise operator, this proposal has serious implications for beverage sales, as even responsible consumers will undoubtedly change their habits out of fear of having the device installed in their vehicle. What’s more, such a mandate does little to address those most responsible for drunk driving accidents — the high-BAC repeat offender.

Get involved! Voice your opinion on this element of the Highway Bill by reaching out to your representatives in the federal government today. Pick up the phone, write a letter. ABI is updating its web site, www.interlockfacts.com, to facilitate easy communication with your legislators; the application should be available in the next week.


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