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ABI: Highway Bill Eliminates States’ Authority on Interlock Use

June 23, 2009


WASHINGTON – Today the American Beverage Institute (ABI), which represents thousands of American restaurants, denounced a component of the Highway Bill which would require that all 50 states mandate ignition interlocks as punishment for low-BAC (blood alcohol concentration) first-time offenders. Ignition interlocks are in-car breathalyzers that measure a driver’s blood alcohol concentration. If a breath sample registers above a pre-set level, the engine will not start.

Laws mandating ignition interlocks for all offenders deny judges the ability to distinguish between a driver one sip over the limit and high-BAC, repeat offenders.

The blueprint of the federal Highway Bill, which came out on Thursday, explains that states will be penalized for not enacting and enforcing low-BAC, first-offender laws. Encouraging states to pass these low-BAC laws has been the primary focus of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for the last several years. But, they haven’t had the success they’d hoped for in many states. Only 11 states have passed these bills, so MADD has turned to Congress to force the states to conform.

“The majority of states have decided not to enact these laws because they deny judicial discretion and ignore the root cause of today’s drunk driving problem—hard core alcohol abusers,” said ABI spokeswoman Sarah Longwell.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that the average BAC of a drunk driver in a fatal car crash is 0.18% -- more than twice the legal limit. But the interlock mandate in the Highway Bill doesn’t target this dangerous population and instead will force first-time DUI offenders, even those just one sip over the legal limit, to install breathalyzers in their cars.

Furthermore, this mandate is an incremental step in MADD’s broader campaign to see ignition interlock technology installed in all new cars as standard equipment.

The federal government has partnered with MADD and auto manufacturers (including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, BMW, and Nissan) to develop ignition interlock technology that would come as standard equipment in all cars in the near future. The devices would be set far below the legal limit – effectively eliminating millions of Americans’ ability to have a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a ball game, or a champagne toast at a wedding and drive home.


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