If requiring second offense drunken drivers to install breathalyzers in their vehicles is a good idea – and we think it is – it also would be a good idea for first offenders.
South Carolina drivers who are convicted of a second or subsequent DUI offenses are required to install so-called ignition interlock devices on the dashboards of their vehicles. The driver must then breathe into the device, which is similar to a breathalyzer, before starting the vehicle.
If the analyzed result is higher than the legal blood alcohol concentration, the vehicle will not start. The result is one less drunken driver on the road.
Why not just have a sober friend breathe into the breathalyzer? The device is programmed to counteract that trick.
At random times, the driver must breathe into the device again while driving the vehicle. And if the blood alcohol level is over the limit, the device will warn the driver and then initiate an alarm, flashing lights or a honking horn until the vehicle is turned off.
The device records each such event, and officials with the Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole (PPP) can later check to see if the driver has observed the terms of the sentence. If he or she hasn’t, more time can be added to the ignition interlock restriction.
The state currently dos not require first offenders to install the breathalyzer device. But under a bill sponsored by state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, first offenders who have a blood alcohol level of 0.12 percent or higher would be required to do so.
That is higher than the legal threshold of 0.10 for drunken driving.
Drivers who are required to install the breathalyzer also would be required to assume all costs for the device. But those who couldn’t afford to do so could apply to have the device paid for through the Interlock Device Fund, which is managed by PPP.
Some critics see the proposal as too draconian for first-time offenders. In practice, though, it could be a more lenient alternative to suspending a first-time offender’s license.
With the interlock device, offenders still could drive to work and get around as long as they didn’t try to drive while intoxicated. The bill also would eliminate the current license suspension period for second and third offenders, and require them to install the device immediately.
The policy would help achieve two goals: giving offenders more mobility as long as they obey the law and keeping drunken drivers off the road. The technology is readily available and road tested.
Using that technology for all but multiple repeat offenders seems both humane and effective. This bill makes sense.