COLUMBUS – U.S. Rep. Gary Scherer said he had tears in his eyes as a bill intended to decrease drunken driving made it through the final step when Gov. John Kasich signed it on Wednesday.
Scherer’s emotions are driven by the family Chillicothe attorney Annie Rooney left behind when she died after her SUV was struck by a drunken driver on July 4, 2013. Rooney’s family began advocating to strengthen the laws, targeting increased use of ignition interlock devices, within weeks of her death.
When the first attempt, which Scherer co-sponsored with Rooney family friend Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott in Scioto County, failed, Scherer re-introduced it and negotiated tweaks to get it passed. Sens. Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, and Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, championed the bill to garner passage in the final days of session last month.
“I didn’t know Annie personally, but through her friends and her wonderful family, I feel as if I do,” Scherer said. “I am pleased to help them make something positive come out of Annie’s tragedy. This law will save lives, and what a tribute to the life of Annie Rooney that is.”
The initial bill required judges to have ignition interlock devices installed in every first-time offender’s car. Vehicles with the device are unable to start unless a breath test is passed. The judicial conference bucked the initial bill because it created a mandate for judges who rather have the ability to use discretion in sentencing based on each case.
While judges can already order the device for repeat offenders, the new law – which will take effect April 4 – incentivizes judges and offenders to use the device by allowing offenders unlimited driving privileges in a vehicle outfitted with an ignition interlock. The bill also extends the amount of time examined to increase penalties for repeat offenders from six years to 10.
Judges also will be able to cut a one-to-three-year driver’s license suspension in half if they order a defendant to use an interlock device.
MADD also widely supported the law as part of ongoing top lobbying efforts to improve ignition interlock laws in every state.
“MADD is grateful to Governor Kasich and the dedicated legislators who share our mission to eliminate this 100 percent preventable crime,” said MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church in a news release. “Many lives will be saved as Ohio increases the number ignition interlocks used by drunk driving offenders.”
According to MADD, states with the strongest ignition interlock laws, such as West Virginia and New Mexico which require them for all drunk driving offenders, have seen reductions in drunk driving deaths of 50 and 38 percent, respectively.