Interlock devices sought to curb drunken driving in Alabama

| 11/26/2007

An effort in Alabama that is expected to draw consideration in the statehouse next year would get tough with certain drivers who get behind the wheel after drinking too much.

Alabama is one of only five states that don’t require use of a device that prevents a vehicle from starting when the driver has a previous drunken-driving conviction. Hawaii, Maine, South Dakota and Vermont also don’t have laws requiring the devices.

Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, wants to remove Alabama from that short list during the legislative session that begins in January 2008.

McClendon is chairman of the State Safety Coordinating Committee. The panel agreed to offer a bill next session that would require a repeat drunken-driving offender to install an ignition interlock device.

Interlocks are hooked up to the ignitions of vehicles. Once such a device is installed, a vehicle won’t start unless the driver blows into a mouthpiece for an alcohol breath test. If the driver blows clean, the vehicle will then start; if not, it won’t budge.

In addition, the devices often require drivers to re-blow in the machine after a designated period of time to ensure that they have not convinced someone else to blow into the mouthpiece for them, or that they haven’t been drinking since getting behind the wheel.

Advocates for stricter drunken driving rules cite statistics that show drivers who are convicted of driving while intoxicated usually have driven drunk 87 times before being caught.

Repeat offenders in Alabama face the loss of their licenses. Those drivers must apply for a new license and pass both the written and road tests to once again become legal to drive.

The cost of installing the interlock devices would be the driver’s responsibility. They typically run about $100 to install and $75 per month to maintain and recalibrate, The Huntsville Times reported.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor