Wednesday, Mayor Vincent Gray signed into law two bills designed to increase D.C.’s enforcement of impaired drivers. One bill allows the city to use ignition interlock devices on vehicles for first-time offenders. The second bill addresses requirements for the admission of breath-test results in court proceedings.
The Ignition Interlock Amendment Act requires the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue new regulations allowing the use of an ignition interlock device after the first conviction of a person for impaired driving.
Prior to Wednesday’s new law, the DMV could only request an ignition interlock device after two convictions. Under the old law, only 80 individuals were eligible for ignition interlock systems.
Currently, approximately 1800 drivers have been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, a single impaired driving offense. Those drivers are now eligible for an interlock system.
Ignition interlock’s require a vehicle’s driver to blow into the device, which checks blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. The vehicle will not start if alcohol is detected at .02 percent or higher.
To deter individuals from using other people to blow for them to start the vehicle, the devices require operators to blow at random intervals while the vehicle is running.
Alcohol Detection Systems, the vendor which owns, installs and maintains the ignition interlock systems for the District of Columbia, charges drivers for the installation, plus a monthly maintenance fee – systems have to be calibrated on a regular basis and BAC content downloaded. Installation fees vary depending on the vehicle, but average around $100.
Nationally, in 2011, there were more than 32,000 traffic crash related fatalities; 31 percent of those fatalities resulted from impaired drivers with a BAC level of .08 or higher. According to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA), one alcohol impaired driving crash occurred every 51 minutes.
In DC, there were 32 traffic crash fatalities ending 2011, approximately 30 percent involved drivers with a BAC level of at least .08. According to D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan, about 9 percent of impaired driving prosecutions involve the use of illegal drugs, including PCP.
“Even though one death is obviously too many,” said Mayor Gray, “we believe that our prevention and enforcement efforts have kept the numbers low and we hope that what we’re doing today will lower those numbers even more.”
D.C. began increasing enforcement of impaired drivers in 2012, with the Comprehensive Impaired Driving and Alcohol Testing Program Emergency Act.
The legislation included higher maximum penalties for first-time offenders, increased mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders and drivers with extremely high BAC levels, and established a new law for impaired operators of commercial vehicles and vehicles-for-hire.
In addition, the legislation substantially increased penalties for impaired persons driving with unrestrained children in their vehicles. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for children ages 3 to 14 in the United States.
“We won’t tolerate irresponsible adults who put their children’s lives at risk driving impaired,” said Attorney General Nathan.
Mayor Gray seemed fully committed to further reducing the number of impaired driver fatalities in the city.
“Clearly, I think we’d all agree that we have to do everything that’s possible to prevent impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel,” the Mayor said, “and do everything possible to identify and arrest and prosecute them if they do drive and endanger the lives of others.”