Lawmakers propose ignition interlock for all DWI offenders

Published 10:23 am Friday, March 25, 2016

By Marino Eccher

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Citing the potential to stop millions of drunken drivers before they get on the road, a group of Minnesota lawmakers wants to mandate the use of ignition interlock devices for all drunken-driving offenders.

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The devices, which prevent a car from starting without a sober breath sample, are currently required only for drivers who offend at least three times and optional for others under a complex set of rules as an alternative to losing their driver’s license.

A new law, backed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and three legislators — Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center — would require interlock for all offenders.

Art Morrow, executive director for MADD in Minnesota, said in a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday that the state would join 25 others who have already seen promising results from doing so.

The group said those states have seen a 15 percent reduction in alcohol-related traffic deaths. Interlock devices have already stopped 1.77 million attempts to drive drunk in Minnesota to date, according to a MADD report.

The same report painted the current penalty for many first- and second-time offenders, the loss of a license, as ineffective, with 50 to 75 percent of people simply continuing to drive without one.

Interlock means “people who have poor judgment won’t even have the opportunity to drive impaired,” Morrow said.

First-time offenders would need to keep the devices installed for at least a year and wouldn’t be able to remove them before going at least 180 days without setting off the device with an impaired result. Repeat offenders would need to keep the devices longer.

Norton said lawmakers originally made the penalties even longer but backed off after MADD and other groups said drivers wouldn’t comply if they were too long.

“We’re trying to hit that sweet spot so that people will actually do it” rather than skirt the law by finding another car, she said at Thursday’s news conference.

She said the devices help modify behavior. An offender might get behind the wheel, think he or she is OK to drive and learn otherwise when the interlock goes off.

“It’s a lesson,” Norton said.

Gina Calistro, MADD Minnesota’s public policy committee chair, also spoke, describing how her father was fatally injured in a collision with a drunken driver in 2009.

The driver “was a repeat offender who should’ve installed an ignition interlock device” but instead opted out, she said.

Offenders pay for their own devices. The new law would seek to divert some current drunken driving fines toward that end.

Fatal alcohol-related crashes in the state were up 15 percent last year from 111 in 2014, MADD said. and are currently outstripping last year’s pace.

The proposed legislation passed the House Transportation Committee Wednesday by a unanimous voice vote and now moves to the Public Safety Committee.


—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.