MADD wants Florida to get tougher on drunk drivers

State lawmakers are looking to crack down on drunk drivers with H.B. 7005’s requirement to study the effectiveness of ignition interlocks for first time convicted offenders with blood-alcohol content above 0.08, but MADD wants them to go even further.

In a letter to state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Mothers Against Drunk Driving national president Jan Withers wants ignition interlocks to be required for all first-time convicted drunk drivers for at least six months. An ignition interlock is a device wired into the ignition system of a vehicle that requires the driver to take a breathalyzer to check for alcohol before starting the car, according to MADD.

“A study of the effectiveness of ignition interlock devices has already been conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and MADD’s advocacy efforts are grounded in this research,” Withers wrote. “According to this research, requiring or highly incentivizing interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers reduces drunk driving recidivism by 67 percent.”

Currently, 22 states require the devices for all convicted drunk drivers, including first-time offenders, Withers said.

Florida does use the devices for convicted drivers who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 or greater, and H.B. 7005 would give a judge discretion on whether to offer it for drivers with blood-alcohol content levels below that.

CDC research finds that “first-time officers are rarely first-time drunk drivers,” Withers wrote. “Conservative estimates show that a first-time convicted DUI offender has driven drunk at least 80 times prior to the first arrest. And that 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers will continue to drive with a suspended driver’s license.”

In 2012, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported that more than 17,200 Florida residents were convicted of driving on a license suspended because they were driving under the influence.

“MADD believes Florida needs … a new approach to handle persons arrested for drunk driving as license suspension alone is no longer practical,” Withers wrote.

Other states with similar ignition interlock measures as what MADD is proposing saw drunk driving fatalities drop, Withers said. That includes a 38 percent decline in New Mexico, 43 percent in Arizona and 35 percent in Louisiana.

H.B. 7005 moved through its latest committee April 15 on its way to the House floor.

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