Raleigh, N.C. — Mothers Against Drunk Driving and law enforcement leaders are calling on lawmakers to require ignition interlock devices for all drivers convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol level at or over the 0.08 level under which drivers are considered impaired in North Carolina.
Current state law requires ignition interlocks for one year for repeat driving while impaired offenders and first-time offenders whose blood-alcohol content was 0.15 or higher. But a growing number of states – 25 so far – are requiring the devices for all offenders. House Bill 877 and Senate Bill 619 would expand their use here as well.
According to the firms that provide ignition interlocks in North Carolina, since 2007, about 144,000 attempted car starts were stopped because the driver had alcohol in his or her system. In nearly 15,000 of those cases, the driver using the device registered a 0.08 blood-alcohol content or higher.
"Imagine how many more people would be stopped if North Carolina expanded this law to all offenders,"said National MADD President Colleen Sheehey-Church.
According to MADD, states that have required the devices have seen dramatic declines in drunk driving deaths – 50 percent in Arizona and 40 percent in West Virginia, for example. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the devices reduce repeat DWI offenses by 67 percent, compared with license suspension alone.
Sheehey-Church says license suspension doesn't work, because people convicted of DWI still have to get to work, get children to school and attend court-ordered treatment.
"Fifty to 70 percent keep driving," she said. "It's hard to monitor."
Interlock devices, however, allow offenders to legally drive as long as they're sober, while protecting the public by stopping them from driving if they're under the influence.
"The law is not stronger," she said. "It's smarter."
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison also spoke in favor of expansion, mentioning the many fatal drunk-driving crashes he's seen in his 49 years in law enforcement.
"It's almost one a day in North Carolina. We can do better," Harrison said. "If we turn our backs and keep having two classes of DWIs, then we're just asking for more trouble, plain and simple."
Harrison said he's heard the arguments that interlocks are too expensive for some offenders, but he's not swayed.
"Hey, you did it, you got caught, you were convicted. So, pay the price. Save a life," he said. "It could be your family, it could be my family."
The bill was filed in both chambers in 2015, but neither chamber gave it a committee hearing, let alone a vote. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said he's hopeful lawmakers can pass it this summer.