It appears as though we are headed toward virtually a zero-tolerance level with people who have been convicted more than one time of operating under the influence of alcohol (usually referred to as “DUI”). Over the past couple of decades we have seen the introduction of the breathalyzer which determines instantly what the blood/alcohol level is; originally in Pennsylvania a person was deemed under the influence if the alcohol level reached 0.15%; gradually that has been reduced 0.1% in Pennsylvania, and Congress is considering a bill requiring all states to reduce it to 0.08%.
There seems to be ample concern by our legislators since drunken drivers are responsible for an appallingly high portion of highway carnage. While no one seems to be ready to outlaw driving with any amount of alcohol in the system, for people who have been twice-convicted of DUI, after they serve the one-year suspension of driving privilege, under recently enacted legislation the permitted blood-alcohol level will fall to 0.025%! (That’s about two whiffs of a strong Martini; forget imbibing!) The law requires a monitoring device to be installed in the vehicle of a person convicted twice of DUI.
And, there are serious teeth in the law. Where the court has ordered one of these devices to be installed as part of a sentence, before a person convicted of DUI may operate a vehicle, he or she must install it, an “ignition interlock device,” into which the driver must blow before the engine will start. During a drive, at irregular intervals, the device will instruct the driver to blow into it, and if the device detects a blood/alcohol level higher than 0.025%, it will instruct the driver to pull over; if the driver fails to do so, the horn will sound and the headlights will flash until he or she does stop and turn off the ignition. The device will be removed after one year, assuming the driver has behaved.
Oh yes, the expense? The driver, of course, must bear the cost estimated to be about $1,000 to install the device. (Add that to the fines, court costs, and attorneys’ fees already incurred.)
And, if you happen not to live in Pennsylvania and are chortling at our bad fortune, check it out locally. Already 22 states have adopted similar legislation and the number can only increase. Acts #63 and #64 which were signed into law in Pennsylvania on June 22, 2000, became effective on September 30, 2000; they make installation of the device optional with the sentencing court upon the first DUI conviction and mandatory after two or more DUI convictions. Act #63 also provides that any driver who is ordered to install the device shall be issued a restricted operator’s license which will specify that he or she may operate only vehicles with the devices attached and functioning.
For many people who are arrested on a DUI charge, the courts will permit an alternate disposition, Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition, commonly referred to as “ARD.” Be aware that an ARD sentence, even though it is not a conviction of DUI, does count for these purposes; one ARD and one DUI and you’re in the soup (or would it be sauce?).
The Acts also provide criminal penalties for anyone who tampers with any of these devices.
Still, we can envision any number of evasive efforts and problems which might arise if the convicted driver is traveling with a non-drinking friend who is willing to blow into the device, there is hardly any way to detect it. Ultimately perhaps the machine may be made to recognize one person’s breath (rather like a fingerprint), though that seems some time away. Also, since the device is mechanical, there are times when it will fail inevitably; can you picture yourself on a cold, snowy, remote road in the middle of the night, blowing vainly into a malfunctioning device even though you haven’t had a drink for weeks? Then there is the possibility that a person with such a limited license will operate a vehicle without the device; however, this opens the door to a plethora of problems if the person would be stopped by the police for any reason or be involved in an accident.
Good idea or not, the device is upon us, and it will cause twice-convicted people to think twice before staggering out of a cocktail party and into a car. Incidentally, Act #64 also makes it a crime for anyone (driver or passenger) in a motor vehicle to drink or even carry an alcoholic beverage in an open container.
On a broader scale there is always the balance between unfettered freedom, which most Americans treasure, and society’s need to curb behavior which endangers others’ well-being. A recent announcement by the officials at Downingtown High School is related to the issue, and may draw more fire from civil libertarians; all students attending social events at the high school must submit to a breathalyzer test, and a student will be denied admission if there is the slightest trace of alcohol. The policy pushes beyond that of the ignition interlock device because a driver is not affected by the law until he or she is convicted of a crime. With the students it matters not whether they are model citizens or trouble-makers; to be there is to be required to submit to the test. In other jurisdictions similar policies have been challenged, but the courts seem willing to uphold them.
Drawing lines within constitutional limits is always a challenge.
– Ken Butera