Sen. Jerry Hill introduces bill requiring DUI offenders to use 'ignition interlocks' | News | Palo Alto Online |


Sen. Jerry Hill introduces bill requiring DUI offenders to use 'ignition interlocks'

Device blocks ignition from starting if driver's breath indicates blood-alcohol level is higher than pre-set limit

First-time DUI offenders would be required to install "ignition interlock devices" in their cars that will test their breath for alcohol before starting the car, if a new bill introduced by state Sen. Jerry Hill passes in Sacramento.

Hill, flanked by representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and nearly a dozen law enforcement officials from cities in San Mateo County and the San Mateo and Santa Clara county sheriffs, introduced the bill (Senate Bill 61) on Monday morning during a press conference at Redwood City's Courthouse Square.

The bill would mandate a five-year pilot program that requires installation of the ignition interlock on DUI offenders' vehicles for six months for the first offense, with an escalating period for each subsequent conviction. Drivers would not lose their licenses while using the device, which Hill said has been a major stumbling block to the state's current voluntary program. Under current California law, only about 20 percent of persons who have a choice of installing the device or driving on a restricted license opt for the device, he said.

Reducing recidivism is key to reducing DUI-related fatalities and injury, he said. Legally impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes were eight times more likely to have a prior driving-while-impaired conviction than drivers involved in fatalities who had not been drinking, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

And the casualties are daunting: In the past 30 years, more than 50,000 Californians have been killed by drunk drivers and more than 1 million have been injured, Hill said. Repeat DUI offenders account for about a third of annual DUI convictions.

Hill said it pains him that a preventable cause of injury and death is not being fully addressed. Conservative estimates show that a first-time convicted offender has driven drunk at least 80 times prior to being arrested, he said.

"California needs to do a better job of reducing deaths and injuries from drunk drivers," Hill said. " We must take action to prevent more drunk drivers." The bill is a bipartisan effort, he added.

Ignition interlocks have reduced repeat drunk-driving offenses by 67 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. A 1999-2002 study funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that in New Mexico, which has the nation's highest rate of per capita ignition interlock installations, DUI rearrest rates were 66 percent lower for persons using the device than rates for those without ignition interlock devices.

A second New Mexico study found recidivism was reduced by 75 percent, and alcohol-related crashes declined 31 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to Impact DWI statistics.

Currently, 24 states have laws requiring all first-time offenders to use ignition interlocks. In states that require the devices, ignition interlocks have reduced DUI fatalities by more than 35 percent; in Oregon, the reduction is more than 42 percent, Hill said.

In California, a pilot program is underway in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties. The devices, which look like walkie-talkies with a plastic tube on top (Drivers must blow into the tube), blocks the car's ignition from starting if the device detects a blood-alcohol level exceeding a pre-set limit. The driver is periodically prompted to pull over and blow into the device again to help prevent gaming the system, Hill said.

Drivers must pay about $100 to $150 for the device, plus a $50 monthly maintenance fee. The manufacturer will provide the devices at no cost to persons who cannot afford them, he said.

Tony Chin, technical supervisor for manufacturer Smart Start, said the device logs whether alcohol is present, its amount and the duration. Drivers in the program must return the device for service every 30 days and to have the data downloaded. When warranted, technicians can employ cameras and GPS to instantaneously download the information.

Hill said that all persons convicted of a DUI would be required to install the devices in their vehicles for six months. Second-time offenders would use the devices for one year; with a two-year requirement for third-time offenders and three years for persons with four or more DUI convictions.

Tom Gallagher, assistant San Mateo County sheriff, said he fully supports the bill.

"Each year we make about 300 DUI arrests; we've had 315 so far this year. I definitely believe it will make San Mateo County a safer place," he said.

Nina Walker, representing MADD in San Diego, spoke to the very real tragedy caused by DUI drivers and the group's support for the bill.

"It's time for California to do the right thing. My life was changed when my 22-year-old-daughter, Ginger, was killed in a DUI crash. Ginger left behind a 3-year-old son, which my husband and I are now raising," she said.

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2 people like this
Posted by Gregory Cushing
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 29, 2014 at 4:21 pm

To me this is telling drinkers to continue drinking, just try to keep under the numbers. The lesson for the first time user should be to never drink if driving is in the near future. Get your designated driver, call a cab, maybe not drink!
To encourage this is to say, whoops, you violated a random number and keep playing roulette with the public's life.
Maybe encourage people to have the tester at their parties so their guests will be safer from prosecution.

Like this comment
Posted by One-Strike-and-You're-Out!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Of course, if the license to drive were suspended after the first conviction--that might make a dent in the number of deaths and accidents attributed to repeat offenders.

2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2014 at 1:22 am

I agree that penalties for drunk driving are way to lenient right now. Too many people are being killed. Make the penalties stronger and enforce the laws more vigorously.

My suggestion is a mandatory jail sentence after the first conviction and a mandatory drivers license retest (written and driving) when you get out if you want your license back.

Innocent lives are at stake.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 30, 2014 at 3:31 am

Latest Police Report Log, issued 12/29/2014:

12/21/2014 01:23 Ross/Oregon CVC23152(A) DUI
12/21/2014 01:34 Ramona/Hamilton CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%
12/21/2014 03:52 200 block Alma CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%
12/21/2014 13:13 200 block Forest CVC14601.1(A) Suspended License
12/21/2014 14:02 321 California Ave CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%
12/23/2014 00:45 600 Emerson St CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%
12/23/2014 08:30 800 blk Embarcadero CVC14601.1(A) Suspended License
and 14601.2(A) driving with license revoked for DUI
and 14601.5(A) driving with license revoked for refusing DUI test
and 23247(E) driving vehicle not equipped with ignition interlock
12/23/2014 21:40 E Charleston/San Antonio CVC14601.1(A) Suspended License
12/24/2014 01:01 100 Forest Ave CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%
12/24/2014 01:35 400 block Emerson CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%
12/24/2014 12:35 600 block E Meadow CVC14601.31(A) Suspended Habitual Offender
12/24/2014 12:45 300 block Bryant CVC14601.1(A) Suspended License
12/24/2014 13:01 E Meadow/Fabian CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%
12/24/2014 21:00 Bryant/Oregon CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%
and 14601.1(A) Suspended License
12/24/2014 21:54 Woodland/Manhattan CVC14601.1(A) Suspended License
12/25/2014 00:51 Ramona/Hamilton CVC23152(A&B) DUI > 0.08%

This represents well over a thousand people driving around Palo Alto with a suspended license and/or drunk, if as the article says, "Conservative estimates show that a first-time convicted offender has driven drunk at least 80 times prior to being arrested."

1 person likes this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2014 at 6:15 am

mauricio is a registered user.

It's a step, but only baby step in the right direction. Each incident of drunk driving should result in an automatic suspension of driving privileges, as is the case in many countries, along with a heavy fine and a prison sentence if appropriate.

Like this comment
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 30, 2014 at 6:51 am

Seems to me there would be many ways to work around this device.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Dec 30, 2014 at 7:48 am

Every car should come equipped with such a device.

Like this comment
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2014 at 11:11 am

Cities of residence of the sixteen drivers whose citations are listed in Musical's post:

Palo Alto -- 3
Stanford -- 1
East Palo Alto -- 2
Menlo Park -- 1
Mountain View -- 2
Redwood City -- 2
San Jose -- 3
Gilroy -- 1
Wiiluku, HI -- 1

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 30, 2014 at 11:22 am

New Police Report Log, issued 12/30/2014, lists 7 more DUIs and 4 suspended licenses.

For those who recommend jail time -- the jails are not big enough, and way too expensive.

1 person likes this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 30, 2014 at 11:48 am

I think this is a good idea, and the technology to make these devices is getting better.

1 person likes this
Posted by Charles
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 30, 2014 at 11:56 am

Mauricio, you are wrong. "automatic suspension of driving privileges" does not work. That is the reason the interlock was invented. More than half of drivers with suspended licenses continue to drive, and that includes drinkers. The interlock is the only solution that really takes these people off the road. And there are not many ways to work around the device - it records the data, and if the records don't match up right, you are in real trouble. And Gregory, the devices prevent a car from starting at a very low BAC level - about .02.

1 person likes this
Posted by One-Strike-And-You're-Out
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2014 at 12:12 pm

> "automatic suspension of driving privileges" does not work.

Doesn't work "to do what"? Stop drunk driving? Or driving without a license.

Certainly the number of illegals in the US driving with licenses shows that the law is no deterent from people who are disinclined to follow the rules. While automatic suspensions might not work as totally, they will go a long way towards dealing with people who are first time offenders.

Certainly let's add the hardware, but it's hard to believe that hardcore drunks won't find ways to defeat the device. Asking someone else to start the car, or bypassing the device with another device, or just leaving the car running .. there are always ways for the hardcore drinker to get another drink, and get behind the wheel.

2 people like this
Posted by Finally!
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 30, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Return the device for service every 30 days, and pay $50 maintenance fee? What a hassle. This is a great idea! I think the fee should be much higher, however. Hitting people in the pocketbook is a good deterrent (I'll never run a yellow light again after my $450 red-light camera ticket in Menlo Park. We have the money, but what a waste!).

Sure, someone else could start the car for the drunk, but who would want to? This is a great deterrent, not perfect, but better than nothing.

There must be a way to stop drivers high on pot too.

3 people like this
Posted by Distracted Drivers
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 30, 2014 at 5:32 pm

How about a device to stop people from texting while driving, using their cell phones??

Like this comment
Posted by Dobbs
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 30, 2014 at 10:20 pm

The DUI driver can have someone else turn on the car and have their breath measured, then change seats and take over the driving.

3 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2014 at 7:20 am

What if their drug of choice is not really alcohol?

What if they drive someone else's car?

What if someone else has to drive their car?

What if they have more than one car, or the car is registered, or re-registered to their spouse?

I wonder about how much money the tech companies who make this device have contributed to these politicians?

It seems like a good idea, if all the loose ends can be accounted for.

The thing is that when I see people driving who I imagine are drunk they are driving crazy. I once saw this guy driving all over Middlefield late night in Atherton. He actually seemed to try to hit me, so I let him pass me way up there, and then he pulled over and stopped. I called the police to report him, but I did not get the exact make of car or the license. I just reported him going south on Middlefield into Menlo Park and took another route.

Another time I saw a semi-trailer drifting all over try road from Menlo Park to Hillsdale on 101.

I think a better technological solution might be to have sensors in all cars that can detect uncoordinated driving typical of problem people. That might account for drugs, alcohol, dementia, senility, lack of sleep or a stroke or spell, or just playing around in the car. The problem would be ... what action to take? Blink the lights, sound the horn, radio the police?

Technology is moving so fast that even if this is done it may only be in place for 20 years or so until we have self-deiving cars.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2014 at 7:22 am

Sorry, I meant El Camino, not Middlefield (above)

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2014 at 7:27 am

Hitting people in the pocketbook is not a good option.

The people who need to drive the most need to go to work.

I heard that the country of Sweden has a sliding scale for criminal fines and I think it is a great idea ... that sadly will not be implemented in the US. Now, that would hit all people in the pocketbook equally.

If a person making minimum wage pays $50, a very wealthy person making several million a year should pay $5000, and a regular middle income person should pay maybe $500 ... something like that, otherwise we just make a roads safe from poor drunks, not the rich ones.

Like this comment
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 31, 2014 at 9:48 am

Why do I get the feeling Senator Hill has a stake in this "lame and beatable" technology.

How about vehicle forfeiture.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Lifer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 31, 2014 at 12:40 pm

@Crescent Park anon:
Interesting idea about the Swedish sliding scale of fines. The consequences of a DUI are much greater than the fine for many offenders, particularly the damage to their careers. That should be a bigger deterrent than the amount of the fine.

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