New proposed legislation has been introduced in Congress aimed at increasing the use of ignition interlock devices in drunk driving cases nationwide. North Carolina law added the use of ignition interlocks last year in DWI cases involving alcohol readings of 0.15 percent or greater and for people convicted of DWI within seven years of a previous conviction. States generally define their own DWI laws under the separation of powers doctrine.
Congress is now considering using its purse strings to dictate to the states when to require ignition interlocks in DWI cases. Roughly 15 states already require interlocks in all cases, including first time DWI cases. However, the congressional proposal is not characterizing the measure so much as one to promote safety, but as a federal jobs measure.
The proposal in Washington is part of a transportation bill that would offer states more federal money for increasing the use of ignition interlocks. Currently in North Carolina, the devices are programmed to prevent vehicles from starting if the driver blows a 0.02 percent or more blood alcohol level before trying to start the car. North Carolina lawmakers have defined certain cases that lawmakers here believe justify the use of the portable breath test machines.
The American Beverage Institute says mandating use of the interlocks would take discretion away from judges in sentencing a defendant. The portable Breathalyzer-type machines also may not be as sophisticated as the magic boxes that the state relies upon to determine guilt or innocence in DUI cases, machines that have raised questions concerning reliability across the country.
The current proposal in the U.S. House is part of a massive transportation bill. The federal legislation apparently does not take into account a state’s individual decisions on when to use the devices. The Senate is expected to consider a measure similar to the House bill in the near future.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Drunk drivers: Congress gets behind breath-test ignition devices,” Richard Simon, Jan. 31, 2012
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