National safety chairman touts ignition interlock requirementsWritten by Jona Ison
Jul. 11, 2014
COLUMBUS — A proposed law that would require an ignition interlock device for all OVI offenders got a push Thursday from the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Chairman Christopher Hart flew into Columbus to offer support to Annie’s Law, which was inspired by the July 4, 2013, death of Chillicothe attorney Annie Rooney.
“Most Americans think we’ve solved the drunk driving problem. The fact is, we haven’t come close,” Hart said during a news conference at the statehouse.
In 2012, the National Traffic Safety Board recommended that all states adopt legislation to require ignition interlock devices for first-time drunken driving offenders. Ignition interlock devices require a person to exhale into it and it tests the breath for alcohol content. If it is above the device’s programmed limit, it prevents the vehicle from being started.
Annie Rooney was 36 when she was killed in the head-on crash by a woman who had prior drunken driving convictions. Annie’s family thinks that, if all convicted drunken drivers in Ohio were required to use an ignition interlock device, the crash wouldn’t have happened. The family has made it their goal to turn their tragedy into something meaningful.
Annie’s father, Dr. Rick Rooney, thinks Hart personally endorsing the bill is a turning point in the legislation and he, as well as co-sponsors Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, and Gary Scherer, R-Circleville, believe it will be pushed through to law during the lame duck session this fall.
“All the major players, all the organizations have come together in the same room and have expressed their enthusiastic endorsement (of Annie’s Law),” Rooney said. “For (Chris Hart) to come here and endorse this in a personal way, I find incredible.”
Between Hart’s endorsement and the Ohio State Neurosurgical Society’s endorsement, Rick Rooney thinks the Ohio State Medical Association also will back the bill.
Although there are several agencies coming behind the bill, news conference organizers MADD and Nationwide Insurance, Johnson and Rooney said they have had some push back and a lot of questions from the judiciary committee.
The two major issues Rooney said have been raised during MADD’s past attempts to get similar laws in place are views that the device is punishment and that judges are concerned about losing judicial discretion in sentencing. He relates the requirements to those he followed as a surgeon or that pilots follow to ensure public health and safety.
“Annie’s Law is about prevention, safety if you will, not punishing or shaming. … When it’s a safety issue, there shouldn’t be judicial discretion,” Rooney said.
Another concern is the workarounds to the device, such as it’s impossible for the current device to know for a fact the right person is blowing into it.
The device is made to be difficult to use without an hour of training, and it can come with a camera to snap a photo that is downloaded during monthly device checks, said Elizabeth Fink, regional public policy director for interlock company LifeSafer. The device also does random retesting after the vehicle has started.
Johnson acknowledged that the interlock device isn’t a “silver bullet” to removing all drunken drivers from Ohio’s roads, but pointed to statistics that show a reduction in both repeat offenders and reduced fatalities in states where they’ve been made mandatory.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported people using interlock devices were 67 percent less likely to be rearrested for drunken driving than those who only had a license suspension.
Link to NTSB: http://www.ntsb.gov/index.html