A new report by anti-drunk driving advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving asserts thousands of trips by impaired drivers were circumvented by Indiana ignition interlock devices.
Specifically, from 2006 to 2016, the group reports nearly 7,100 drunk driving trips were thwarted. Indiana's ignition interlock law went into effect in 2015. Just in the last year alone, from 2015 to 2016, it's estimated 1,780 drunk driving trips were stopped.
Each of those trips represents a potential life saved, or innocent victim spared. For those who may be unfamiliar with the device, it is in essence a personal breathalyzer, installed in an individual's car. Those enrolled in the program are required to breathe into it and produce a negative breath-alcohol test in order for the vehicle to start.
Our Indianapolis drunk driving injury attorneys know that, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, approximately 2,210 people have been killed in crashes involving a drunk driver between 2003 and 2012. About 1 in every 3 traffic fatalities nationally involves a driver who has had too much to drink.
Indiana's ignition interlock program, according to MADD, doesn't go far enough. As it stands, a total of 28 states plus the District of Columbia require all DUI offenders - including those who have been arrested for the first-time with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher - to have ignition interlock installed. However, Indiana doesn't mandate ignition interlocks for anyone - not even repeat offenders. Instead, judicial discretion is given and judges are the ones who ultimately make the determination on a case-by-case basis.
As of 2015, there were approximately 1,060 ignition interlock devices installed throughout the state. That figure is quite low considering our population. For example, Indiana's population is 6.6 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, Minnesota's population 5.5 million. However, Minnesota has 10,200 ignition interlock devices installed, compared to Indiana's 1,0560, and the number of prevented DUI starts last year were 1,290, compared to more than 58,000 in Minnesota. The primary difference is that while Indiana's ignition interlock program is discretionary, Minnesota's is mandatory for all repeat offenders, as well as first-time offenders with a BAC of 0.16 or higher.
Minnesota's ignition interlock program is nowhere near as stringent as some on the books, and yet, that single provision has seemingly made such a significant difference in preventing people from driving drunk, most likely saving lives and preventing serious injuries.
Judges in Indiana do have the option to require first-time offenders to install the device, but it's not available for those who violate implied consent laws by refusing to provide a breath sample to police.
The state doesn't advertise the ignition interlock law, and there are no plea agreements or reduction of original DUI charges in exchange for a requirement of ignition interlock.
Still, the devices are only effective for so long as they are in use. Recently in Indianapolis, a man was charged with OWI causing death after a crash that killed his 14-year-old passenger. According to CBS4Indy.com, the driver had multiple prior convictions for operating a vehicle while intoxicated - three since 2008. His license had previously been suspended, but officials say it was reinstated just prior to the crash.
State law holds that after a conviction on the third major traffic conviction, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has up to two years to label someone has a habitual traffic offender, and only then would their license be up for a possible 10-year suspension. Even then, the bureau has to issue a suspension letter to the driver to place them on notice, and the driver must respond with a return receipt. That whole back-and-forth can take several months.
Indiana State Police say in this case, it's likely defendant would have been labeled a habitual offender, but at the time of this crash, his license was still valid.
Said the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney's Council, "You can suspend somebody's license, but it doesn't stop their car from starting." That's true, but ignition interlock devices do.