A Hudson Valley congresswoman says she will introduce a bill next week that would use technology to keep drunk drivers off the road.
Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, will introduce a bill next week when the House of Representatives reconvenes that would push states to require the use of ignition interlock devices for a minimum of six months for all convicted drunk driving offenders. States would face a reduction in federal transportation funding if they do not change their laws by October 1.
“During this July 4th holiday weekend, it shouldn’t matter if you’re driving in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or Pennsylvania. All law-abiding citizens deserve the same level of protection from drunk drivers,” says Lowey. “The time is now to ensure that this is the law of the land, across the country.”
An interlock is a device that requires a driver to provide a breath sample to the vehicle. If the sample is above the legal limit, the car will not start. Lowey says in 2012, there were more than 10,000 deaths caused by drunk drivers.
“Drunk driving cost taxpayers $132 billion each year, including $2.4 billion in New York,” Lowey says.
The bill is called “Alisa’s Law,” in honor of the daughter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President Jan Withers.
“My daughter Alisa would turn 38 this Tuesday, July 7. Tragically, her life was cut short when she was only 15 due to the carelessness of a drunk driver,” says Withers. “I continue to miss her every single day since the moment she died. What a beautiful way to honor her and everyone killed or injured by drunk driving by enacting a law that would be extremely effective in saving lives across our country.”
Twenty-four states, including New York and Connecticut, require all convicted drunk drivers to have an ignition interlock installed. Withers points out that New Mexico was the first state. Earlier this week, Delaware became the 24th. Withers says other states have less stringent interlock laws.
“The fact is is that the states have reduced their drunk driving deaths -- the people who have been killed -- they’ve cut them, they’ve reduced them by one-third up to 43 percent. That’s like almost half. I mean, that right there, that bottom line right there, tells me why it needs to be enacted in every state.”
That was Lowey who exclaimed “wow” while Withers was talking.
“While we have made tremendous progress since 2000 when we passed my nationwide law setting the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration at .08, far too many people die as a result of drunk driving,” Lowey says.
Rockland County Sherriff Louis Falco notes that New York’s ignition interlock law passed unanimously in 2009. He says the law, in combination with the legal limit of .08 percent blood-alcohol content, has helped reduce drunk driving incidences. Falco says holiday safety checkpoints, like ones held over the July 4th weekend, also help.
“The awareness drives that are done by the Stop-DWI programs throughout New York State and specifically here in Rockland have helped to decrease the number of arrests,” says Falco.
The cost, notes Falco, falls to the convicted drunk driver.
“In New York State, the defendant pays for it all,” Falco says. “They pay for not only the device, they pay for the installation, they pay for the monitoring fees and then they pay for it to be removed if, in fact, it’s so ordered to remove it.”
Lowey says with New York’s ignition interlock law, interlock device installations increased from 2,500 in 2010 when the law first went into effect to more than 6,800 in July 2013.