EDITORIAL: ANNIE’S LAW COULD SAVE LIVES
Wednesday, November 16, 2016. 5:01 AM.
As lawmakers scramble to enact legislation in the final hours of the 131st General Assembly, they should prioritize and pass “Annie’s Law.” Few other bills could do more to protect Ohioans and save lives.
House Bill 388, named for Annie Rooney, an accomplished young woman killed by a drunken driver with at least three prior convictions, gives judges a stronger tool to keep impaired drivers off the road while maintaining judges’ discretion.
Currently first-time offenders may be granted limited driving privileges to go to work or school, for instance. They are prohibited from driving anywhere outside those restrictions. But many cheat: 50 percent to 75 percent of convicted drunken drivers continue to drive on suspended licenses, federal research shows. Add to this that most first-time offenders have driven drunk at least 80 times before they are caught, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and it helps explain why a third of first-time offenders repeat the offense.
So what if courts had a way to make offenders, themselves, want to stay sober behind the wheel — or track those who did not and not let them drive unmonitored again until proof existed that they’d changed their ways?
Annie’s Law does just that.
The bill, passed 87-6 by the House in May, would give judges the discretion to grant someone convicted of drunken driving full driving privileges if the offender petitions to have an ignition interlock installed on his vehicle. These devices require the driver to breathe into an alcohol sensor before trying to start the car. If the sensor detects alcohol, the car won’t start.
The incentive for offenders to request this device is two-fold: They wouldn’t face limited driving privileges, which are so ignored as to be useless. And those complying with the use of the device could reduce their suspended-driving period by half.
But there’s a catch: The device’s data will be tracked and drivers must have a clean record for the last 60 days of their suspension or face a 60-day extension.
Annie’s family, MADD and a large coalition of public safety and health groups have worked tirelessly to pass this measure, which has been amended to address judges’ concerns about retaining their discretion to mete out shorter sentences — or provide them with options for longer ones.
The resulting bill is a reasonable compromise. As for the issue of cost, the monitoring would cost the offender $2.50 to $3 a day, or about $500 for six months. Considering that a drunken-driving offense typically costs an offender $10,000 — including attorney fees, higher insurance costs and fines — this seems a small expense to protect public safety.
These devices work: Compared with license suspension alone, interlocks reduce repeat offenses by 67 percent while the device is installed — and 39 percent even after it’s removed, according to MADD. They change behavior.
This is important because the woman who hit Annie Rooney in 2013 had at least three prior impaired-driving offenses. Annie, a Chillicothe native, was just 36.
And ignition interlocks aren’t experimental. They’re routinely ordered in Ohio for repeat offenders, preventing by one estimate more than 121,000 car starts by drunken drivers since 2008.
In Ohio last year, 401 people were killed by impaired driving. Imagine the number of lives that Annie’s Law could save.
Further, MADD notes that 28 states already have similar or stronger bills than Annie’s Law and that Ohio’s drunken-driving laws have not had a serious upgrade since 2008. This legislation is very much overdue.