Ignition interlock should reduce drunks on Hawaii roads
The Legislature is near passage of a bill that would require ignition interlock device on cars driven by repeat DUI offenders.
Hawaii is about to join most other states in using technology that prevents repeat-offense drunken drivers or of those driving while severely drunk from starting their cars' engines. The requirement should reduce Hawaii's drunk-driving offenses, based on effects in those states that have used the ignition-interlock system in sentence requirements.
Rep. Sharon Har, who was injured when a vehicle driven by a multiple-conviction drunk driver smashed into her car in March of last year, pushed the legislation, which had been introduced but set aside in previous legislative sessions. Canada has been using the system since 1991, and Hawaii is among only five states that have neglected to use it.
Vehicles installed with the alcohol ignition interlock system require the driver to breathe into a device before starting the engine. Those failing the sobriety test are unable to do so. The driver must repeat the test at random intervals to make sure that a sober friend had not breathed into it to start the engine.
Statistics show that Hawaii needs the device to be required for repeat offenders. Fifty-two percent of the state's traffic fatalities last year were alcohol related -- the highest in the nation and up from 47 percent in 1998. The number of drunken-driving arrests on Oahu has nearly doubled since the beginning of this decade to nearly 4,000 last year.
State figures show that 18 percent of those drivers had been arrested for the same offense before, while nearly one-third of those arrested nationally were repeat offenders. Hawaii's figures could well be higher, considering that 41 percent of those arrested last year had blood-alcohol contents of 0.15 -- nearly twice the legal limit and subjecting the offender to stiffer penalties for "severe" intoxication.
Under the measure, first-time offenders would have the option of the ignition interlock system being installed in their cars or surrendering their licenses for up to 90 days. That will be important to those who need their cars to commute to work or to be used on the job.
Law enforcement agencies have noted what they consider to be technical flaws in the legislation, and it provides for a task force of legal and community advisers to determine any changes before the requirement takes effect in July 2010. Those include concerns about the cost, which should be paid by the offenders' rate of $3.50 a day for installed devices.
Most other states require the devices for repeat offenders. The Missouri legislature is toughening its law, which allows judicial discretion in order the installation, after Gov. Matt Blunt pointed out that only one of five repeat offenders had been ordered to install the device.
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