California weighs stronger ignition interlock laws to curb drunk driving

A new California bill would require all DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices, which could greatly reduce recidivism and alcohol-related crashes.

Drunk driving takes a huge toll on California's roadways each year. In 2013, over 161,000 people were arrested in Temecula and other parts of the state on suspicion of driving under the influence, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. The same year, fatal alcohol-related accidents claimed 867 lives and accounted for 28.9 percent of all deadly motor vehicle accidents in the state.

To address this epidemic, state lawmakers are now considering a bill that would require all convicted DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices. Research suggests that this could significantly help reduce drunk driving accidents and recidivism.

Proposed changes

This legislation would expand the state's current ignition interlock device program, which only applies to certain offenders. KTVU News reports that the law would require all first-time offenders to install the devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if a driver fails a breath test.

A local pilot program suggests that greater use of these devices may offer significant safety benefits. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, since 2010, this program has required anyone convicted of misdemeanor DUI in four California counties to install the devices. KTVU News states that MADD recently reported that this program has prevented over one million instances of drunk driving. If the program were implemented statewide, it could have an even greater influence.

Dangers of first-time offenders

Prior research also suggests that establishing harsher sanctions for first-time offenders may offer significant safety benefits. MADD reports the following facts about first-time offenders:

  • They are responsible for roughly two-thirds of drunk driving accidents, injuries and fatalities.
  • They are typically habitual offenders who have driven intoxicated an average of 80 times before the first time that they are caught.
  • They are just as likely to drive drunk again as people with multiple DUI convictions.

MADD also reports that up to three-quarters of convicted DUI offenders, including first-time offenders, keep driving even after their licenses are suspended. Together, these findings suggest that letting first-time offenders avoid ignition interlock device installation leaves other motorists in danger.

Ignition interlock benefits

According to MADD, ignition interlock device use has been shown to reduce repeat DUI offenses by 67 percent. In two of California's neighboring states, Oregon and Arizona, ignition interlock laws that apply to all offenders have helped reduce DUI fatalities by more than 30 percent. In California, this type of drop in alcohol-related fatalities could result in hundreds of lives saved per year.

Handling alcohol-related accidents

Unfortunately, regardless of whether this legislation succeeds, drunk driving accidents will likely harm many people in California this year. After these accidents, it is important for injury victims to recognize that legal recourse may be available. Discussing the situation further with an attorney may be a beneficial step for anyone who has suffered harm or lost a loved one due to another driver's negligence.