Starting this year, repeat DUI offenders in South Carolina will have to blow into a device in their vehicles to prevent them from driving drunk. It's nice to see that the state finally is catching up with much of the rest of the nation in approving these devices.
The state has had the authority to use ignition interlocks since 2000. But the State Law Enforcement Division dragged its feet in developing regulations for its use, citing a lack of money to develop the program. Finally, last year, lawmakers passed a bill requiring the use of interlock devices by anyone convicted of a second-offense DUI.
The interlock, usually installed on the car's dashboard, contains an alcohol detection device. The lock prevents the car from starting until the driver blows into a sensor unit. And if the sensor detects an alcohol level above .02 percent, the driver will not be able to start the car.
In South Carolina, it is illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or higher. So the interlock device is programmed to keep DUI offenders from driving even if they are only moderately intoxicated but not over the legal limit.
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The interlock also has a built-in feature to help prevent cheating. It randomly requires a breath test after the vehicle is running to prevent offenders from having a friend who is sober blow into the device to start the car.
We are pleased that the state has adopted the use of ignition interlocks. But we are dismayed that it took so long.
When lawmakers first considered DUI reforms in 2007 that would have required use of the interlock, 44 states already were using it. The effort stalled that year, but lawmakers approved reforms, including use of the interlock, last year.
North Carolina and 39 other states also use a device known as the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM. This device, which is locked around the ankles of DUI probationers, measures blood-alcohol content as it dissipates through perspiration.
Technology can play a vital role in helping to prevent drunken driving -- especially by repeat DUI offenders. Nearly 20 percent of those serving time for killing someone in a drunken driving accident have at least one prior DUI conviction in South Carolina.
The interlock also could help reduce the hundreds of fatalities and thousands injuries resulting from alcohol-related wrecks each year. New Mexico, which has the highest per-capita use of interlock systems, has reduced its drunken driving fatalities by 28 percent.
It's about time the state adopted the use of this device. All we can say is, better late than never.