Law makes DUI convicts blow clean to drive

A bill by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, was signed into law Wednesday and will soon require certain convicted drunk drivers to install an ignition interlock device in their car.

Starting in 2019, Senate Bill 1046 will require repeat drunk driving offenders and first offenders who caused an injury to install the alcohol detection device in their car to prevent it from starting if the driver is impaired.

The statewide pilot program will also give first-time DUI offenders the choice to install an ignition interlock device instead of having their driving privileges revoked or having a route-restricted license, according to Hill’s office.

The new law expands a pilot program currently in place since 2010 in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties that requires people convicted of DUI to install the device. That four-county pilot program will remain in place through 2018 before moving to the modified statewide version the following year.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving hailed Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to sign the bill.

MADD national board member Mary Klotzback said:

“This is going to save lives.”

Klotzback, a Livermore resident, lost her 22-year-old son Matthew in a drunk driving collision in 2001.

Drunk driving deaths are 15 percent lower in states that require all convicted drunk drivers to install breathalyzers compared with states with less stringent requirements, according to a study by Dr. Elinore Kaufmann at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Douglas Wiebe, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Interlocks are a life-saving technology that merit wider use,” said the study, which was published in May in the American Journal of Public Health.

Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C., require the devices for all DUI offenders, according to Hill’s office.

About 1,000 people die and more than 20,000 are injured each year in California because of drunk drivers, according to Hill’s office.

A California Department of Motor Vehicles report published in June found that among first offenders, the devices are 74 percent more effective at preventing a repeat offense than suspending the offender’s license. For second offenders, that number is 70 percent.

The California Public Defender’s Association opposed the bill, saying it imposed too high a cost to low-income offenders.

An ignition interlock device costs about $60 to $80 a month to calibrate and monitor. The cost for installation is $70 to $150. The new law reduces those costs for low-income offenders, according to Hill’s office.