Keep plan for device to curb drunk drivers


POSTED: Sunday, March 22, 2009

LAST year's Legislature enacted a law aimed at requiring people convicted of drunken driving to install a device preventing them from starting their cars. State budget problems might prevent the program from proceeding anytime soon but shouldn't park it indefinitely.

The new law joins Hawaii with most other states requiring convicted drunken drivers to install ignition-interlock systems in their vehicles. The driver needs to breathe into a device that measures blood-alcohol content before starting the engine; one who fails the test is unable to do so.

First-time offenders will have the option of having the device installed or surrendering their licenses for up to 90 days. The offender must pay for the cost of the device, which amounts to $3.50 a day.

The law provides for a state fund to pay for the device installed in vehicles of offenders who fall under the poverty level. However, nearly 7,000 arrests were made last year, and a judiciary representative says the courts' probation officers “;are being taxed to their limits”; because of vacant positions they can't afford to fill.

The courts would have to hire 10 probation officers to monitor offenders, a spokesman said. The device records the history of each attempt to start the vehicle and whether the attempt was successful.

A task force assigned by the Legislature to study the issue has recommended that the program begin in July 2011, six months after the original goal. That should allow next year's Legislature to determine whether the state's budget can pay for it.