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National debate continues about stricter ignition interlock laws

In recent months there has been considerable nationwide debate about the use of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) as a means of reducing repeat drunk driving offenses and drunk driving crashes.

Wisconsin already requires the mandatory installation of an IID for DUI repeat offenders and those convicted with a blood-alcohol concentration of at least 0.15 percent. But now, pending federal legislation, state legislation and pressure from national advocacy groups could result in even more stringent IID policies here in Wisconsin.

In a February post, we wrote about one piece of federal legislation that would require the installation of an IID after any DUI conviction regardless of factors such as the defendant's blood-alcohol concentration or previous driving record. This would apply to drivers in all states.

Many safety advocacy groups support this or nearly identical legislation. For instance, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently came out in support of single-conviction IID requirements and encouraged all states to enact such a law.

It also released the results of a study conducted in Washington State. The study found that recidivism rates for drunk driving declined after the state adopted the single-conviction IID policy.

An IIHS representative and lead author in the study said: "An interlock law that covers all people convicted of DUI reduces recidivism by 11-12 percent. We found that the higher the rate of interlock installations, the lower recidivism would be."

Study results can make a persuasive practical argument, but there are other questions to consider besides whether or not this aggressive IID policy would reduce repeat drunk driving offenses.

Is it ethical to treat all DUI cases the same way regardless of circumstances? Should we take away the power of judges to use their discretion when sentencing convicted DUI offenders? Hopefully, Wisconsin and federal lawmakers will carefully weigh these questions before making sweeping and possibly damaging changes to our current DUI laws.

Source: WisconsinRapidsTribune.com, "Safety group seeks ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders," Larry Copeland, Mar. 6, 2012

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