(Host) The Vermont Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving will ask lawmakers in January to pass legislation that’s designed to crack down on repeat DUI offenders.
However Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper doesn’t support the plan.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) The plan to take a more aggressive stand against drunk drivers is part of a national campaign by MADD. The group is concerned that the number of fatalities caused by drunk drivers hasn’t declined in the past few years.
MADD officials believe the threat of arrest is no longer a strong deterrent for many drivers.
Steve Jackson is the state coordinator for MADD. He wants the Legislature to support a plan to require that an alcohol detection device be placed in the cars of all first time offenders.
In order for the car to start, a driver must first blow into a machine mounted inside the vehicle. If the person’s blood alcohol level is too high, the engine won’t start.
The state of New Mexico adopted this system in 2005 and officials credit this approach with reducing DUI related fatalities.
Jackson thinks the system should be required in Vermont.
(Jackson) “Here is a way to have the car become a smart car and being able to discover whether the operator of that car is indeed impaired. This is going to be just a tremendous ability in the hands of the judicial system to be able to help eliminate and maybe even eliminate in the next 5, 10, 15 years drunk driving in the country.”
(Kinzel) Jackson says the proposal is needed because many people who are picked up for drunk driving are repeat offenders:
(Jackson) “Every time someone is picked up, they’ve gotten away with drunk driving. They’ve gotten away with it for about 50 times.”
(Kinzel) Public safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper says the intent of the plan is good but Sleeper has strong concerns about it:
(Sleeper) “If you could clearly identify one operator, the only person that has access to the vehicle, that’s a different situation. But again, in a rural state, particularly in Vermont that vehicle is shared. And I’d be concerned that we were penalizing the rest of the family.”
(Kinzel) Sleeper says law enforcement efforts can still be very effective as long as sufficient resources are dedicated to this task:
(Sleeper) “We need to continue doing what we are doing and that’s aggressive enforcement coupled with strong public awareness and education. It has made the difference over the last 10 years in reducing impaired driving deaths.”
(Kinzel) MADD is currently seeking lawmakers who would be willing to sponsor their bill in the 2007 session.
For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier