New law expected to increase number of interlock ignition devices

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday signed into law a measure that is expected to dramatically increase the number of Connecticut drivers required to use a device that tests a driver’s blood alcohol level before starting their car.

The ignition interlock device is already being ordered installed for most drunken-driving offenders but not for “first-time arrestees” in the state, according to Janice Heggie Margolis, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Connecticut.

First-time offenders in Connecticut, Margolis said, have the opportunity to attend a pretrial alcohol education program. Charges are eventually dismissed if the program is successfully completed.

The law that goes into effect on July 1, 2015, will allow a judge or the Department of Motor Vehicles to order the ignition interlock device for those first-time arrestees eligible for the pretrial program.

“Anyone arrested now can be mandated to get an (ignition interlock device),” Margolis said.

Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate a person has driven at least 80 times while intoxicated before they are arrested for drunken driving the first time, Margolis said. She said there are about 10,000 people arrested each year in Connecticut for driving while intoxicated and most of them are first-time arrests. The potential number of new interlock ignition devices is in the thousands.

The $100 installation fee and $75 per month calibration fee for the device will be paid for by the offender, according to the law.

The law also shortens driver’s license suspension periods from 90 days to 45 days in some cases. Margolis said MADD is working with the legislature to eliminate suspensions altogether in exchange for wider use of the interlock ignition devices.

She said the suspensions do not prevent an offender from driving and in many cases lead to further arrests.

“MADD doesn’t view the (interlock ignition device) as punitive. We look at it as an opportunity for a person to continue to go to work or school whatever they have to do, but maybe change their behavior,” Margolis said.

g.smith@theday.com

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