Ohio has made great strides in reducing the number of fatalities caused by drunken drivers over the past several decades, but the state must continue to find new ways to discourage impaired driving.
Lawmakers will have a chance later this year when they debate the merits of House Bill 469.
The bill would expand the use of ignition interlock devices for those charged with driving under the influence if a judge grants them driving privileges during their license suspensions.
Current law allows judges to order use of the devices for those convicted of DUI twice in six years. House Bill 469 would allow them for first-time offenders as well.
While the bill may still need some fine-tuning, there’s no good reason why the use of the technology shouldn’t be expanded. Doing so will save lives. The devices have been found in studies over the past two decades to reduce recidivism up to 75 percent and statistics show that as more ignition devices have been put into use, DUI fatalities have fallen.
Interlock devices are similar to the breath-testing devices used by police, but are wired into a vehicle’s ignition and require a driver to blow into a sensor that measures the blood-alcohol level. If the alcohol detected is in excess of a pre-set level, the vehicle won’t start.
A computer keeps track of the readings and failures and the data is periodically reviewed by probation officers and court officials.
Under House Bill 469, a driver would have to register a blood-alcohol content of less than .025 percent to turn the ignition. That’s about one-third of Ohio’s .08 percent intoxication limit.
The devices would be required for first-time offenders instead of prohibiting them from driving for 15 days and then obtaining limited driving privileges for work, school and medical appointments.
If approved, Ohio would become the 23rd state to require the devices for first-time offenders.
Opponents have raised due process issues, saying the law could allow an alcohol-related punishment to be imposed on non-alcohol-related convictions if an offender ends up pleading to a lesser charge.
The devices, which are paid for by the offender and run about $80 per month, could be cost-prohibitive for some and result in more cases going to trial, placing a greater burden on the courts.
Such concerns, though, could be addressed when the legislation, known as “Annie’s Law,” comes up for debate this fall.
Annie Rooney, 36, a prosecuting attorney from Chillicothe, was killed last summer by a drunken driver who had been arrested three times for DUI, but convicted once. Lesser charges resulted from the other cases.
Lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate too long in expanding the use of ignition interlock devices.
In 2011, 413 of the state’s 1,080 fatalities were considered alcohol-related. While that 38 percent rate matched the national average, it’s still too high.
Ohio must do better. House Bill 469 will help.
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