Ohio bill aims to curb drunken driving

First-time DUI offenders in Ohio could be required to use ignition interlock device on vehicles.
MCT Regional News
Jul 14, 2014

A bill requiring first-time DUI offenders in Ohio to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicles should see legislative action this fall.

But concerns about due process linger and could lead to some changes to the bill.

Current law allows judges to order use of the ignition interlocks, which require drivers to blow into a device that measures blood-alcohol levels before starting a vehicle. House Bill 469 would make it mandatory for first-time offenders, same as is now required for those convicted of DUI twice in six years.

Supporters, including the National Transportation Safety Board, gathered last week to encourage action on the bill, which would make Ohio the 23rd state to require the devices for first-time offenders. They call it a better option than a license suspension that is all too often ignored by violators.

Two decades of research has found that the devices reduce recidivism among DUI offenders by up to 75 percent, said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The bill has had a few committee hearings, and Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, a joint sponsor, said he is disappointed it did not pass before the summer break. But movement could come quickly when lawmakers return this fall.

“This is a great bill,” said Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, adding he’s optimistic the committee will move it. “Some members of the committee have concerns, and I’ve been meeting with them and will continue throughout the summer to arrive at a place where everybody is comfortable.”

The devices would be used for first-time DUI offenders instead of prohibiting them from driving for 15 days and then obtaining limited driving privileges for work, school and medical appointments.

Jon Saia, a Columbus defense attorney specializing in DUI cases, likes that part of the bill. But he thinks the legislation has a major problem in that it would allow judges to impose ignition locks when a defendant charged with DUI ultimately pleads to a reduced charge. That, he said, would impose an alcohol-related punishment for a non-alcohol-related conviction.

“There is no way that’s going to pass muster,” he said.

And if a defendant is facing the possibility of paying $80 a month for the ignition lock device over six to 12 months even with a reduced charge, Saia thinks it will push more cases to trial.

Asked about concerns, Johnson said the bill would save lives.

“You can think something as complicated as this bill and what it will do into the ground…and lose sight of the simplicity of what it actually does,” he said.

Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, backs the bill but acknowledges there are due process concerns that may require some changes.

“The safety outweighs the due process for me,” Stinziano said. “I continue to look to other states where it’s been successful.”

The roughly $80-a-month cost of the device covers the cost of calibration. Saia also questions how much it would cost the state’s indigent defense fund for low-income defendants, though the state would qualify for a $688,000 federal grant to help pay for the law.

A driver must register a blood-alcohol content of less than .025 — less than half the .08 limit at which one is considered too intoxicated to drive — to turn the ignition.

The legislation has been named “Annie’s Law,” for 36-year-old Annie Rooney of Chillicothe, a prosecuting attorney who was killed in July 2013 by a drunken driver who had been arrested three times, with one conviction for DUI and two plea deals for lesser charges.

Her father, Dr. Richard Rooney, has pushed hard for the bill in an effort, he said, to ensure that his daughter did not die in vain. He points to statistics showing that as usage of ignition devices has risen, DUI fatalities have fallen.

“Our lives were shattered,” he said. “Annie’s memory has moved us to strengthen the law.”

———

By Jim Siegel - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Comments

ladydye_5

Most first timers get to plead down, so who would actually get this? When will the courts stop with the pleading down? Quit being so lenient. Do the crime do the time. You made the choice to do it. There should be no chance to plead down.

J Cooper

"And if a defendant is facing the possibility of paying $80 a month for the ignition lock device over six to 12 months even with a reduced charge, Saia thinks it will push more cases to trial." How much does Attorney Saia charge for a DUI that goes to a jury trial, me guess a few thousand and he thinks the $480- $720 will force more trials? If they have the interlock, no suspensions and unlimited alcohol free driving, seems like a win, win.

NWalk99

Seems like a great idea to me. Safety should always be number one and by preventing the ability to drive the car while intoxicated! The previous laws and rules to prevent drinking and driving were not working so I am happy to see them make a more aggressive approach to prevention versus just punishment.

Windy

What's to stop these people from driving someone else's car that doesn't have the ignition lock installed or having someone who hasn't been drinking blow into it for them?

J Cooper

If they drive another car they are charged with the suspension, if they have a sober person riding with them, why aren't they driving?

Windy

OK. I was thinking about them having a child blow into the ignition lock so mommy or daddy could drive the car.

J Cooper

If they drive after drinking with their child in the car, they deserve not to drive at all and spend quality time in jail. Many of the interlock systems have a camera attached for positive ID of the subject.

Windy

I was not aware of the camera. Thank you.

exoticnoise420

You can have a friend blow in that for you for 5 dollars (no pun intended). In California where I have seen people have these there has never been any recording equipment in the car. And then when you get pulled over for ovi/dui they eat " well I blew in it and it let me drive..." So they can get off on another technicality.

J Cooper

The new equipment has a camera option.

Dr. Information

So what happens when most drunk driver can't afford this device? Let me guess, everyone else has to pay for it.

J Cooper

Those indigent defendants inter lock is paid for by a state fund that is collected from all DUI offenders.