Allen Farley: Why judges shouldn’t disregard ignition interlock requirement for DUIs

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Memorial Day weekend is one of the deadliest because of  alcohol-related accidents, behind only the Fourth of July. Alabama has the opportunity to decrease repeat DUIs, but many in the judiciary are not adhering to the state law designed to make our roads safer.

Prior to being elected to the Alabama Legislature in 2010, I was a law enforcement officer for 36 years. During those years I saw a glaring hole in how we deal with DUI offenders. The other side of the problem – family-destroying addiction – also became evident as my wife and I volunteered at the Salvation Army Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center. That is why I agreed to be the House sponsor of the Ignition Interlock Bill, which passed overwhelmingly in 2014 and became law in July 2014.

For those readers not familiar with ignition interlock, it’s a breathalyzer-controlled lock installed on the vehicle of a convicted DUI offender. If the user blows above a 0.02 percent BAC (blood alcohol content), the car won’t start. The new law we passed was a change to existing law, allowing offenders of different degrees to have an ignition interlock device instead of losing their license. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration endorses that approach because license suspensions do not change behavior or protect against future drunk driving.

This sounds like common sense, right? But there is a big problem with ignition interlock right now: Judges and courts in Alabama are refusing to implement the law, which is their duty. I do not know nor will I speculate why they are doing this, but the simple fact remains that they are. As a result, our roads are more dangerous and DUI recidivism rates continue to rise.

You might ask why a former law enforcement officer would be in favor of the policy. The answer is simple. Taking a license away from an offender does not keep them from driving in general, and it certainly does not stop them from driving while drunk. Installing a device that won’t let them start their car, on the other hand, does both, according to study after study. Not only that, it allows the offender to be a contributing member of society because they still can drive to work, church, and the grocery store.

Further, when judges properly implement the law, it will make our roads safer, and the numbers bear this out. Since mandating ignition interlock devices in New Mexico in 2005, the state’s drunk driving related fatalities are down 30 percent. Since Arizona’s interlock law went into effect in 2007, drunken driving deaths have dropped by a massive 46 percent.

In the event you think not enough time has passed since the law was enacted, Mississippi’s ignition interlock legislation became law in October 2014. Since that time, about 1,200 ignition interlocks have been implemented. By contrast, Alabama’s new law went into effect four months earlier than Mississippi’s, yet roughly half the number of devices are being used. That’s even more shocking when you consider a form of ignition interlock was originally passed in Alabama in 2012, but loopholes were discovered making it necessary to pass a new law. In other words, Alabama actually had a three-year head start on our neighbor to the west.

Will you join me in asking our judges to require ignition interlock devices for convicted drunken drivers, as required by law? It is not a sufficient excuse that offenders who broke our laws and endangered lives will have to drive a few miles to get an ignition interlock. It is not an acceptable excuse that the devices will cost lawbreakers a few dollars a day. There really is no excuse to not use ignition interlocks so we can save hundreds of lives each year.

A law was passed that will make our roads safer and at the same time help reduce the rate of repeat offenses. Now let’s enforce it and see the positive benefits for the people of Alabama.

State Rep. Allen Farley is in his second term in the Alabama House of Representatives where he represents Jefferson and Shelby Counties.

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