U.S. Representative to Propose Legislation Requiring IIDs In All New Vehicles

Monday, July 27th, 2015

U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice has announced that she will be introducing legislation that will require ignition interlock devices to be installed on all new vehicles coming off the production line of American automakers.

Recall that ignition interlock devices (IID) require the driver of a vehicle to provide a breath sample indicating a blood alcohol content below a specified limit before the driver can start the vehicle. Laws regarding the installation of ignition interlock devices vary widely amongst the states.

Here in California, generally, ignition interlock devices are not mandatory as part of a DUI sentence. They may, however, be ordered as part of a DUI sentence at the discretion of the judge and usually when the DUI involved aggravating circumstances such as a particularly high blood alcohol content or a chemical test refusal.

However, as of 2010, certain California counties became subject to a pilot program requiring the installation of ignition interlock devices to be installed for a first time DUI offense. California Vehicle Code section 23700 requires the five-month installation of ignition interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders in Alameda, Tulare, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

 “Advancing the progress we’ve made combating drunk driving demands bold action,” said Representative Kathleen Rice. “It demands that we take a stand and say we refuse to keep letting drunk drivers take 10,000 lives each year. We refuse to keep seeing families torn apart when we know we can do more to prevent it. Strict enforcement is important, holding drunk drivers accountable is important, but we can and must do more to stop drunk drivers from ever hitting the road in the first place. That’s why I’m working on legislation to require ignition interlock devices in all new cars. This technology saves lives, it saves money, and I’m going to fight to make it standard equipment in American cars.”

To support her position, Rice cited a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan. According to the study, requiring interlock technology in all new vehicles would, over a 15 year implementation period, prevent an estimated 85 percent of drunk driving-related deaths and 84-89 percent of drunk driving-related nonfatal injuries. Also according to the study, preventing those deaths and injuries would save an estimated $343 billion over 15 years, and the cost of installing the technology would be recovered in the first three years.

These numbers however are based on the assumption that the cost of the device is $400 per vehicle and that the ignition interlock device operates accurately 100% of the time.

However, as with many components of a vehicle, very few function properly 100% of the time.

Rice also failed to mention, although acknowledged by the study itself, that “current devices are not technologically advanced enough for placement in all new vehicles, primarily due to slow reading times, the need for frequent calibrations, and mouthpiece care requirements.”

Not surprisingly, Representative Rice is a former prosecutor who has been named “[New York’s] toughest DWI prosecutor” by the New York Daily News and who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Ironically, not even over-zealous MADD supports Rice’s position. One of the questions posed on MADD’s website FAQ page is “Does MADD advocate for ignition interlocks in all cars?”

It’s response…
 

“No. MADD advocates requiring ignition interlocks only for convicted drunk drivers with an illegal blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater.”

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Report Ranks which States are Toughest on Drunk Drivers

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Wallethub.com, a financial services website, has attempted to rank states based on how tough and lenient their laws are on DUI offenders.

Wallethub cited a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistic that 31 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in 2012 involved alcohol impairment. This number, however, has dropped significantly since 1980 when states began taking a serious stance on drunk driving. The reason for the decline, according to Wallethub, is the tough laws and penalties that states have enacted to combat and punish drunk driving.

Using a point system, states were ranked depending on if and how that state imposed a certain DUI laws.

For example, states were given 10 points if the law required at least 10 days in jail for a first offense, eight points for eight to nine days in jail, six points for six to seven days in jail, four points for four to five days in jail, two points for two to three days in jail, and zero points for zero to one day in jail. 

Other assessments included whether the state imposed additional penalties if a drunk driver had a high blood alcohol content, the range in fines and fees, the range in "administrative" license suspension, and whether an ignition interlock device was required following a DUI conviction.

So how did the states fare?

Arizona, according to Wallethub, is the toughest state on drunk driving.

Amongst some of its penalties include the following:  Arizona requires a minimum of 10 days in jail for a first time DUI and a minimum of 90 days in jail for a second DUI. A DUI automatically becomes a felony on the third offense. A DUI conviction will lead to a three month administrative license suspension. An ignition interlock device is mandatory for 12 months upon a first conviction.

South Dakota, on the other hand, came in dead last when it came to laws punishing drunk drivers.

Some of South Dakota’s DUI penalties (…or lack thereof) include some of the following:  The state does not have a minimum jail term for either a first time DUI or a second time DUI. A DUI automatically becomes a felony on the third offense. There is no administrative license suspension nor is a person required to install an ignition interlock device is required upon a DUI conviction.

And how did sunny California do?

California came in 31st with some of its laws including the following: California requires a minimum of two days in jail for a first time DUI conviction and a minimum of 10 days for a second time DUI conviction. A DUI becomes a felony on the fourth offense. A person convicted of a DUI in California faces a four month administrative license suspension.

Although Wallethub indicated that California does not require an ignition interlock device upon a first time DUI conviction, some counties in California, Los Angeles included, do in fact require an ignition interlock device.

Wallethub’s report can be found here: http://wallethub.com/edu/strictest-states-on-dui/13549/

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Can Alcohol Sensors in All Cars Eliminate Drunk Driving?

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Last week federal officials said that new technology which could be installed in all new cars in the next five years could eliminate drunk driving.

The new technology, however, isn’t doing anything we’re not already doing: preventing a vehicle from being started by someone who has a blood alcohol content above the legal limit. What is different is the method by which this is being accomplished.

Passive breath sensors or touch-sensitive contact points on a starter button or gear shift would immediately register the blood alcohol content of a driver. Unlike the ignition interlock devices, which require a driver to blow into a tube to provide a breath sample and start a car, drivers of vehicles with the new technology need not do anything for a BAC level to be detected.

“The message today is not ‘Can we do this?’ but ‘How soon can we do this?’ ” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “It is a huge step forward.”

Although cost estimates of the new technology have not yet been made, officials anticipate the costs, once the sensors go into general production, to be comparable to the cost of seat belts or air bags; about $150-$200 per vehicle.

Unlike other safety features like backup cameras, which the NHTSA made mandatory beginning in 2014, the new alcohol detection technology would not be required by automakers. Instead, the technology would be offered as an upgrade to new vehicles.

“These devices have to be quick, accurate and easy to use for the automakers to put them on their platforms,” said Bud Zaouk who runs the laboratory where the technology is being developed.

Developers are still working on refining the technology to ensure accuracy. Their goal is also to allow the technology to produce blood alcohol readings in less than a second and to work for at least 10 years or 157,000 miles without calibration or maintenance.

Not surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has expressed its support for the new technology. Colleen Sheehey-Church, president of MADD, addressed an audience at NHTSA.

“This is the future,” she said, gesturing toward a vehicle equipped with prototype detection gear, “when drunk drivers will be unable to drive their cars. If this technology was available in 2004, my son, Dustin, might be alive today.”

Sheehey-Church’s son died in the back seat of a car when the driver  who was drunk drove into a river in 2004.

In all that I’ve heard and read about the new technology, the NHTSA has yet to address some glaring problems.

Unlike an ignition interlock device, which is intended to only detect the blood alcohol content of the driver, the passive alcohol detection devices will be detecting alcohol located in the air of the vehicle whether it’s coming from the driver’s seat, passenger’s seat, or even the back seats.

If such is the case, what’s the point of having a designated driver? In fact, this is just the tip of the iceberg of questions yet to be addressed.

Will the technology detect alcohol coming from something other than a drunk driver such as mouthwash, perfumes, or hand sanitizer? Will bartenders have to shower and change clothes before heading home after a shift? Will the technology work with open windows? What about convertibles or motorcycles?

If you ask me, let’s just focus on self-driving cars to reduce drunk driving.

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Breathalyzers to be Installed in All New Cars?

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Think of all of the things that could come with a new car when the salesman tells you that it is fully equipped. I bet you’re thinking of satellite radio, heated seats, dashboard navigation, and maybe park assistance. I’m sure you weren’t thinking of a pre-installed breathalyzer, the use of which is required to start the car; a permanent ignition interlock device if you will.

I’ve written in the past on Nissan’s high-tech, DUI-preventing smart car which contains several types of sensors that detects, amongst other things, the presence of alcohol on the driver.

A highly sensitive alcohol sensor built into the transmission shift knob is able to detect the presence of alcohol in the driver’s palm sweat when they grasp the knob. The transmission will lock, immobilizing the vehicle if the alcohol detected in the sweat meets a pre-designated level. The vehicle will also be equipped with sensors located in the driver’s and passenger’s seat to detect the presence of alcohol in the air. If alcohol is detected in the cabin of the vehicle, a voice alert will notify the driver and a message will appear on the navigation monitor.

Could such technology actually prevent DUIs? According a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health the answer is yes.

"Alcohol interlocks are used very effectively in all 50 states as a component of sentencing or as a condition for having a license reinstated after DUIs, but this only works for the drunk drivers caught by police and it doesn’t catch the people who choose to drive without a license to avoid having the interlock installed," said lead author Dr. Patrick Carter, an emergency physician with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. "If we decided that every new car should have an alcohol ignition interlock that’s seamless to use for the driver and doesn’t take any time or effort, we suddenly have a way to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries that doesn’t rely solely on police."

Carter and his researchers used U.S. records on traffic accidents and fatalities from 2006 to 2010 to determine the number of incidents that were alcohol related. They then estimated how many of these incidents could be avoided in the future with the pre-installed ignition interlock devices on all new vehicles.

The researchers assumed that it would take 15 years to phase out older cars without pre-installed ignition interlock devices with new vehicles that are equipped with pre-installed ignition interlock devices.

Carter concluded that “over 15 years, 85% of crash fatalities and 84% to 88% of nonfatal injuries attributed to drinking drivers would be prevented." This amounts to 59,554 lives. They also estimate that this will save an estimated $342 billion in injury-related costs.

There’s no way to know how accurate Carter’s estimates are or will be if pre-installed ignition interlock devices become standardized in all new vehicles.

And although the study just dealt with projected effects of such technology, I still have several questions regarding the technology itself:

Will the pre-installed ignition interlock devices be as accurate in determining the BAC of a driver as a breath or blood test used by law enforcement (breathalyzer can fairly inaccurate)? Will the technology need to be regularly calibrated like breathalyzers used by law enforcement and current ignition interlock devices? Will data be stored such that it can later be used against a driver in a DUI case?

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Will I Have to Install an Ignition Interlock Device?

Monday, March 9th, 2015

One of the more common questions I get when someone has been charged with a California DUI is whether they will need to install an ignition interlock device. Unfortunately the answer is not straight forward and depends on several things.

An ignition interlock device, in short, is a breathalyzer that is installed into the dash of a person’s vehicle that must be blown into before the vehicle can be started, but only if the breathalyzer does not detect alcohol.  Not only must the ignition interlock device be blown into before someone can start their vehicle, but it must also be blown into at random times throughout the drive.

There are a number of things that a person can be sentenced to following a DUI conviction, some of which are mandatory and some of which are imposed at the discretion of the judge. Amongst the discretionary terms of a California DUI sentence is the requirement that a person install an ignition interlock device.

However, if you are arrested and convicted of a California DUI in Los Angeles, Alameda, Tulare or Sacramento Counties, the installation of an ignition interlock device is mandatory following a license suspension and before a person can drive again.

As of January 1, 2010, Assembly Bill 91 became law and created a pilot program in those counties.

The law, California Vehicle Code section 23700, in part reads:

"Before a driver’s license may be issued, reissued, or returned to a person after a suspension…of that person’s driving privilege that requires the installation of an ignition interlock device…"

How long a person has to install an ignition interlock depends on how many prior DUI convictions the person has had. A first time offense carries a 5-month installation period. A second time offense carries a 12-month installation period. A third time offense carries a 24-month installation period. A fourth time offense carries a 36-month installation period.

If a person is required to install an ignition interlock device, they must certify to the California DMV that the device has been installed and they must take their vehicle to the provider of the ignition interlock device every 60 days for maintenance.

The law provides for an exception to the pilot program for those who do not own a car or otherwise have access to one. If that is the case, a person must complete and submit an “exemption form” to the California DMV. A person can then completely avoid the ignition interlock device by waiting out their suspension plus the period during which they would have had the ignition interlock device installed. If, however, the person obtains a vehicle in that time, they must have the ignition interlock device installed.

The pilot program is set to run to January 1, 2016. By July 1st of this year, the California DMV will report to the Legislature on the pilot program’s effectiveness in reducing repeat California DUI offenses. If the data from the pilot program indicates a reduction in repeat California DUI offenses, we may see the installation of an ignition interlock device as a requirement following a DUI conviction throughout California.

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