California bills advance; would impose more ignition interlocks

| 9/9/2008

Before the California Legislature wrapped up their regular work for the year, multiple measures were approved that would increase the use of ignition interlock devices for drunken drivers.

“California currently is among the most lenient of states regarding extreme drunk drivers,” Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, said in a written statement.

In an effort to end that distinction, Oropeza’s bill would make it easier to require the installation of the devices in vehicles of motorists cited for drunken driving.

The Senate and Assembly advanced the measure – SB1190 – to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It would lower the threshold for when judges can require interlock devices as punishment for drunken driving from 0.20 percent to 0.15 percent.

Interlocks are hooked up to the ignition of vehicles. Once such a device is installed, a driver must blow into a mouthpiece, which measures the amount of alcohol on a person’s breath. If the driver blows clean, the car 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 on driving while intoxicated usually have driven drunk between 80 and 100 times before being caught.

There are 46 states that require the devices in some cases. In California, judges have authority to require use of the devices to allow offenders to drive to and from work or alcohol treatment.

Two more bills that are on their way to the governor’s desk also address drunken driving. The first measure – SB1361 – would require that offenders submit proof of installation of ignition interlocks in order to have their driving privileges reinstated.

The second bill – SB1388 – would require that certain offenders immediately install the devices on all owned vehicles for one to three years. The rule would apply to those drivers who are convicted of driving a vehicle when their license has been suspended or revoked for drunken driving within the past 10 years.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor