In May of this year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended stronger restrictions on alcohol use. While all 50 states have some justifiable reservations about lowering the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit from 0.08%, many states have responded by focusing on enforcement, rather than more criminalization.
This approach is much easier to sell to the public, and is already bearing fruit. In Washington, five manufacturing companies have been lobbying the government for years, funding elections, participating in meetings, and even writing the laws that now govern the use of the ignition interlock devices.
The business is lucrative, both for the manufacturers and local service centers. The device itself is expensive, and the DUI (driving under the influence) offender also has to pay for the installation, removal, and a monthly $100 re-calibration, the proceeds of which go to the state. It’s no wonder that the private sector is pushing for stricter enforcement.
Ignition Interlocks are a profitable alternative to a driver’s license suspension. Tennessee has already made the devices a mandatory purchase for all first time DUI offenders. Before this law, an Ignition Interlock Device was only ordered at the judge’s discretion. There were only 507 people in the state who had one in 2009. Last year 27,000 people in Tennessee were convicted of a DUI, so the industry is expecting a major boom.
Virginia was ahead of the curve, passing similar legislation last year, even before the NTSB recommendation. Some states are slower to act. Michigan has not introduced new legislation. The state reserves the ignition interlock device for “habitual offenders”, which can be you after two offenses within seven years, and as a probationary measure for driver’s license reinstatement.
The devices are controversial because they are known to malfunction and report false positives. This requires an expensive re-calibration at a service center, and can also lead to a renewed driver’s license suspension, or an extension of the installation term. This is, of course, an advantage both to lawyers who represent such court cases, and to the service centers, which reap heavy profits from the required maintenance.
This issue is aggravated by the fact that interlock devices lock up your car when you measure at a BAC of 0.025, which is less than a third of the legal limit. If you blow into the device after using an alcohol based mouthwash, you are facing an extension of your sentence and
Washington lawmakers are worried about the influence of the manufacturing sector on state legislation governing this issue. The private prison system has grown rich and influential enough to dictate the terms of the industry to the government. Law makers fear a similar power imbalance in their relationship with the interlock manufacturing industry if they rely on it for DUI law enforcement.
Tyler Knapp is a freelance writer who focuses on our rights, and the balance of power between the state and the citizen. He likes to read the news and let people know all the new ways the government is cooking up to profit from law enforcement.
Graphic Source: Morgaine Ford