New law becomes effective July 1
New law becomes effective July 1
A new state law taking effect July 1 aims to keep drunken drivers off the road by requiring repeat offenders to install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles before their license will be reinstated.
An ignition interlock device is a breath-testing instrument connected to a vehicle’s ignition, horn and headlights. To start the vehicle, a driver must breathe into the device without registering a detectable blood alcohol concentration.
Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Forrest Wegge believes the devices could lead to good habits.
“If people are driving in compliance, they are going to, through habit, form healthier, more legal, life decisions,” he said. “If they spend one year driving legally, they will realize it is a privilege, and if they don’t drive sober, there are repercussions.”
Effective July 1, Missouri will require drivers with more than one alcohol offense to have the device installed on any vehicle they operate. Once a driver has had the device installed and had his/her driving privileges reinstated, the device must remain in the vehicle for at least six months.
An “alcohol-related offense” includes a license suspension or revocation, a refusal to submit to an alcohol/drug test or a conviction for any other offense related to driving while intoxicated.
Drivers who have had their licenses revoked for refusal to submit to alcohol or drug tests must show proof of automobile liability insurance to the Department of Revenue to get their license reinstated.
Courts will have the option of imposing other requirements for those convicted of alcohol-related driving offenses, such as requiring the device to be installed in a car for more than six months.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office sees a pattern of those who have their license suspended or revoked and then continue to drive. The goal is to get them licensed and insured for the safety of others.
“There is an exorbitant amount of people stopped who are driving with a suspended license,” Sheriff Oliver “Glenn” Boyer said. “The majority have some type of previous history of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
The interlock devices have been around for many years, but not everyone is convinced they work.
A 2004 report by the California Department of Motor Vehicles sparked a controversy after it said that court-ordered interlock installation is not effective in reducing recidivism of first-time DUI offenders.
The American Beverage Institute had seized on this and released a statement saying the study showed that the interlock had no “statistically significant effect in preventing subsequent drunk driving convictions but they increase their users’ general crash risk by up to 130 percent.”
The beverage group misrepresented the findings, the California DMV responded.
The DMV report’s lead author, David DeYoung, subsequently explained, “It’s true that our study showed that court orders to first offenders to install an ignition interlock device are not effective in reducing recidivism among that group – perhaps because many first offenders tend to be in denial, resent the devices and refuse to install them. But the ABI press release completely omits our finding that the devices can have a real effect on repeat offenders who are beginning to come to grips with their alcohol problem and who often find the mechanical devices to be helpful in keeping them out of cars when they’ve been drinking.
“In quoting our finding that DUI second offenders using the device have a 130 percent higher risk of a subsequent crash, ABI seems to imply that the device itself somehow increases the likelihood of a crash. That is not what we said,” DeYoung said. “Obviously, if someone who has previously been forbidden to drive is allowed to return legally to the roadways with an ignition interlock and a restricted driver license, their exposure to accidents increases, no matter how sober they are.”
Associate Circuit Judge Ray Dickhaner handles first- and second-time alcohol-related offenses for the Jefferson County court.
Dickhaner says that while the principle behind the new law is worthy, there is no way to know if the offender will actually drive the vehicle with the interlock device. He believes the SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) device is much more effective.
SCRAM is a way to deal with repeat DWI and domestic violence offenders who have been court-ordered not to consume alcohol without sending those offenders into overcrowded jails.
The ankle bracelet tests sweat from the skin of offenders, taking readings every 30 minutes 24 hours a day. Those wearing the bracelets will have to pay to be monitored – typically $10 to $15 a day, per bracelet. If they are found to have consumed alcohol, they can have their probation or parole revoked.
Seven Missouri counties are taking part in a pilot program to help the state decide whether to require some alcohol-related offenders to wear the ankle bracelets. The six-month pilot program by the Missouri Department of Corrections is running in probation and parole district offices located in St. Louis, Vernon, Jackson, Greene, Boone, Scott and Buchanan counties and monitors a total of 70 offenders, each for 90 days.
Jefferson County has been using the ankle bracelets as well and may even lead the state in alcohol-related bracelets per population, Dickhaner says. The devices detect tampering such as sliding a piece of bologna or a plastic bag between the device and the skin.
If Missouri decides to implement the system after the trial period ends in August, it would become only the second state to adopt it statewide.
Dolan Media Newswires contributed to this article.