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Fight the Ignition Interlock Mandate

July 31, 2009 By: Donna Hood Crecca

For those who thought it couldn’t happen, well, it looks like it’s closer to becoming reality. Ignition interlock as punishment for all drunk driving offenders could be here shortly.

A proposed federal transportation funding bill that includes a mandate that all 50 states enact legislation requiring ignition interlocks in the vehicles of anyone convicted of a drunk driving offense in order to receive highway dollars is looming. The Senate is looking for an 18-month extension of the current bill; the House is considering a three-month extension.

Does the financial penalty for non-compliance sound familiar? This is the same noose the federal government put around the states’ necks when the push was on to raise the legal drinking age to 21 in 1984. One by one, the states all capitulated (Interestingly, the efficacy of the 21-year-old drinking age has recently been called into question by none other than a group of college professors; www.amethystinitiative.com). We can expect the states to fall in line on this one, too, unless Congress hears outcry from both the public and the hospitality industry. Oh, and the state governments should speak up as well, given that this will be an unfunded mandate.

What does this mean to you as a nightclub, bar or restaurant operator? If ignition interlock is mandated for all drunk driving offenders regardless of BAC level and number of offenses, it will impact your drink business. If you don’t believe it, ask your fellow operators in New Mexico and Arizona, where ignition interlocks as punishment for low-BAC, first offenders is in effect. Anecdotally, I’ve been told decreases in adult beverage sales of as much as 25% were not uncommon. Can you afford to loose a quarter of your drink sales?

If the proposed bill with the ignition interlock mandates passes it will likely change how patrons consume alcohol in your establishments, or, more likely, how they won’t. Such legislation also negates the idea of responsible alcohol consumption, as it assumes there is no such thing. When you consider that the average BAC of drivers involved in drunk driving fatalities is two times the legal limit, it’s obvious that the vast majority of Americans drink responsibly.

The mandate will also catapult America toward universal ignition interlock, wherein the technology is standard in all cars. Essentially, this legislation further fosters intolerance of any consumption of alcohol in this country.

So if you’ve been ignoring Sarah Longwell’s appearances on television and letters to the editors of the major media outlets opposing ignition interlocks for low-BAC first offenders on behalf of the American Beverage Institute, or the organization’s president Steve Shlemon of Carrabba’s as he talks it up at industry events or even our coverage of ignition interlock in the various NCB outlets and my own blogs on the topic, now is definitely the time to listen up and get involved.

Educate yourself on this issue! Check out a report by a CBS affiliate on our home page, and watch for ongoing coverage there and in Nightclub & Bar magazine. Visit www.interlockfacts.com or www.abionline.org for more information. Check out MADD’s position as well (www.madd.org) and even DADSS (www.dadss.org) to get both sides of the story. Then, contact your representatives in Congress today. Tomorrow may be too late.


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