Since 2003, the state of Pennsylvania has required repeat drunk driving offenders to install ignition interlock systems in their cars to be able to get provisional licenses after their initial suspensions have expired. It was estimated that ignition interlocks stopped repeat offenders from starting up their vehicles 9,104 times after they registered a blood alcohol level of .08. Now, a new law will change the way the entire system works, and some people are not convinced that the new laws will do anything to reduce traffic accidents.
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Under new traffic laws prepared to go into effect in Pennsylvania in 2017, first-time DUI offenders who have a blood alcohol level of 0.10 or higher will be put into the ignition interlock program after six months of a suspended license. Current laws suspend the license of a first-time offender for one year if they have a blood alcohol level of 0.10 or higher. The new laws will suspend the license for six months, and then offer a conditional license that goes with the ignition interlock system for one year.
On the surface, many lawmakers and drunk driving awareness groups see the benefit of a law like this in combating drunk driving. But some lawmakers insist that this program is only going to benefit the companies that make the ignition interlock systems and do little to curb DUI convictions. In 2015, there were approximately 5,500 ignition interlock devices installed on Pennsylvania vehicles. Analysts estimate that this law will raise that number by nearly 12,000 vehicles per year.
The state estimates that any increase in costs associated with expanding the ignition interlock program will be offset by the fees paid by DUI offenders who have the systems installed. But is this really going to stop people from drunk driving?
The state estimates that the ignition interlock program kept an estimated 25 drunk drivers per day off the streets. This saved lives, and expanding the program will have an even more pronounced positive effect.
Sarah Longwell is an advocate for the Pennsylvania restaurant industry and she indicates that ignition interlock systems for first-time offenders are not going to do much to alter behavior. She maintains that putting these systems on the vehicles of repeat offenders for longer periods of time would do more to curb the behavior than going after new DUI cases.
Many drunk driving advocacy groups suggest that, instead of coming down harder on first-time offenders, it may be more prudent to go after repeat offenders who continue to try and drive drunk. There are 25 states with laws on the books that extend the amount of time an ignition interlock system must be in a car after each time the driver has a level over the limit, and Pennsylvania should adopt that kind of law instead.
Another problem some lawmakers and law enforcement officials have with this new law is that it does not combat the number of other types of DUI cases that are overtaking drunk driving. Cases involving drivers influenced by drugs or drivers distracted by their phones are filling in the gaps being left behind by drivers who cannot drive due to ignition interlock systems.
It has been suggested that the state of Pennsylvania find ways to address these issues before going after first-time drunk drivers. The rise in the number of people getting into traffic accidents while texting has risen sharply and the ignition interlock system does nothing to change that.
Studies show that one year on an ignition interlock system does not do much to change the behavior of a repeat DUI offender. Once the system comes off their vehicle, repeat offenders tend to get more DUI convictions. It seems that the state of Pennsylvania is not addressing the real issues with these new laws, but rather creating new business for ignition interlock manufacturers.
The state also needs to address the rise in other forms of DUI accidents. The number of drunk driving accidents fell in 2015 in Pennsylvania, but the number of DUI accidents remained the same due to texting and drug use. The state will need to focus on these other issues and the behavior of repeat offenders if it really wants to make the roads safer for everyone.