Hanna: DUI Deterrent

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(HOST) Commentator and Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna has been following the efforts of one Vermont family to ensure that next year our roads will be a safer place for us all.

(HANNA) This past August, 21 year old Bethany McAlister was hit by a truck as she was walking along the side of the road.  Mike Lucier is awaiting trial on charges of felony drunk driving and leaving the scene of a fatal crash.  Bethany died.

Now Bethany’s family wants to change Vermont’s DUI law.

In an effort spearheaded by her aunt, Heather McAlister, the family is urging Vermont lawmakers to adopt an Ignition Interlock law that Mothers Against Drunk Driving is encouraging all states to adopt.

An ignition interlock device is like a breathalyzer that’s attached to a vehicle’s dashboard.  Before someone can start the engine, they have to breathe into the device.  The vehicle won’t start if alcohol is detected. The driver has to keep blowing into the device to ensure that a friend didn’t help start the car, or that the driver isn’t drinking while driving.  

If the device detects alcohol, it logs the event and signals a warning to the driver. Then lights start flashing and the horn starts blowing until the ignition is turned off. This warns other drivers to stay away and alerts law enforcement.

The law would require an interlock device for all first-time DUI offenders, for those caught driving on a suspended or revoked license, and for anyone who refuses to take a breathalyzer or blood test.  Offenders would bear the cost of a few hundred dollars, and there’s a monitoring fee of around $60 month – or a few bucks a day  – which is cheaper than a drink.  There would also be a fund available for indigent defendants.

The law would include strict penalties for tampering with the device or aiding someone in doing so, and if they committed a DUI with a child in the car, they would be required to use the device for a longer period of time.

This approach would be more effective than revoking the offender’s license, which often happens, though many offenders still drive with a revoked license, often citing the need to drive to work.

Interlock devices allow people to keep driving as long as they’re sober, and maintain a job and their dignity while hopefully getting their drinking problem under control.

New Mexico, which requires these devices for first time offenders, saw a 35% drop in fatalities related to drunk driving.  That’s a lot of lives.

At least 37 states now have some law that requires the use of these devices for drunk drivers.  But Vermont has yet to take advantage of this technology.

It won’t save every life lost to a drunk driver, but all the available data show that it does make a big difference.  

In the meantime, the efforts of Bethany’s family should remind us all to drive safely and sober this holiday season.

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