By Randy Ludlow
The Columbus Dispatch
Saturday June 14, 2014
Ohio lawmakers are considering requiring first-time drunken-driving offenders to have an ignition breathalyzer installed on their cars to confirm their sobriety during a six-month penalty period.
The law now allows judges to order the ignition interlocks, but the House bill would make their use mandatory. Offenders convicted twice within six years must use the devices.
The bill sponsor, Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, cites federal figures that ignition-interlock devices reduce DUI re-arrest rates by 67 percent. About 25,000 first-time offenders are convicted each year in Ohio.
The devices would replace a system in which first-time DUI offenders are not allowed to drive for 15 days and then can obtain limited driving privileges to travel to work, school and medical appointments.
“There is nothing to ensure compliance and nothing to ensure sobriety unless they happen to get caught again,” Johnson said. “This allows the offender to continue working and to minimize disruption to his life while ensuring public safety to the extent we are reasonably able to do so.”
A change in the bill last week also would require those charged with DUI but convicted of lesser offenses, such as physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated, to install the machines in their cars.
Motorists convicted of DUI would lease the interlock devices, which cost $70 to $150 to install. A $60 to $90 monthly fee includes downloading data to see if a failed breath test prevented the car from starting.
Indigent drivers would be eligible for a free or discounted device from county alcohol-treatment funds.
Only about 5,000 Ohioans, including repeat DUI offenders, are required each year to use ignition interlocks, said Doug Scoles, executive director of Ohio MADD.
Twenty states now require their use by first-time offenders. “Requiring the use of ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers will help prevent repeat offenses and, in so doing, save lives,” Scoles said.
The State Highway Patrol reports 341 people died in drunken-driving crashes last year. Seventy-seven people have been killed so far this year, 38 fewer that at the same time in 2012.
The bill is dubbed “Annie’s Law” in memory of Chillicothe lawyer Annie Rooney, who was killed last year by a drunken driver now serving eight years in prison. Her family has campaigned for passage of the bill.
Lara Baker-Morrish, chief prosecutor for the city of Columbus, calls the legislation “a very good idea.”
“It does curb the behavior we’re trying to get at, and it has been proven to save lives,” she said.
Courts would have to find ways to monitor the increase in ignition-interlock reports on drivers and find funding to ensure devices are made available to those who can’t afford installation and monitoring, she said.