Clickability tracking pixel

SF Police Department Supports Ignition Interlock Legislation to Curb DUIs

If the bill is signed into law, convicts with a single DUI offense would need to keep a device installed in their car for six months that requires a driver to take a breathalyzer test before the car will turn on.

by Kimberly Veklerov, San Francisco Chronicle / March 29, 2016
An ignition interlock is a breath test device linked to a vehicle’s ignition system. Before starting their vehicles, drivers must first blow into the device. The vehicle will not start unless the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is below a pre-set standard. Flickr/U.S. Department of Transportation
An ignition interlock is a breath test device linked to a vehicle’s ignition system. Before starting their vehicles, drivers must first blow into the device. The vehicle will not start unless the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is below a pre-set standard.Flickr/U.S. Department of Transportation

(TNS) -- The San Francisco Police Department on Monday threw its support behind legislation that would expand the use of a device that prevents DUI convicts from starting up their vehicles while inebriated.

The installation of an ignition interlock device — so named because it blocks an engine from turning on when the driver’s Breathalyzer detects alcohol — is nearing the end of a pilot program in four California counties. If passed, SB1046 would replicate the program throughout the state and require future convicted offenders to buy the gadget.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, with the backing of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, will be considered Tuesday in the Senate Public Safety Committee. If the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown give the OK, it could go into effect as soon as Jan. 1.

“These devices stop the revolving door of repeat offenders,” said Mary Klotzbach, a Livermore nurse whose son was killed in 2001 by a repeat offender driving under the influence. “People’s lives are at stake. We can’t wait another year to stop the carnage.”

At a news conference Monday, Klotzbach and others who have lost loved ones to drunken drivers spoke emotionally about their loss as Police Chief Greg Suhr and officers listened.

If the bill is signed into law, convicts with a single DUI offense would need to keep the device installed for six months. Those with a second offense would be required to use the device for a year, while three-time offenders would be required to use it for two years and four-time offenders for three years.

The gadgets cost about $100 to install and another $50 per month for monitoring and calibration. The pricing would be on a sliding scale based on the offender’s income level, with any difference picked up by manufacturers of the devices.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving published a report in December on the results of the pilot program, which began in July 2010 in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties. The group used data from companies that make the devices and found that 717,266 attempts to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.025 were prevented over the program’s five-year span. Of the attempts, about 12 percent were by drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher.

Carol Leister, whose son was killed by a drunken driver on the Bay Bridge in 2008, said the numbers were staggering.

The 22-year-old man who crashed into her son’s car driving more than 100 miles per hour was a first-time offender, she said, meaning the legislation could prevent people like him from driving under the influence again.

A report from the Department of Motor Vehicles, published in January 2015, found no indication the pilot program in the four counties reduced the number of first-time and repeat DUI offenders. DMV officials initially said a follow-up report to investigate “specific deterrence effects” on program participants, rather than general deterrence of an entire community, would be published in 2015, but it’s still under review without a scheduled release date, according to agency spokesman Jaime Garza.

Hill and advocates of the bill say DMV officials prefer suspending licenses over the ignition interlock technology.

“It really puts into question the credibility of the DMV,” Hill said, referring to the delay in the department’s follow-up report.

The device “is not a burden. It’s very simple and allows them to continue with their life by driving,” he added. “I think it kind of meets everyone’s needs and it should be a very obvious thing.”

©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.

E.REPUBLIC Platforms & Programs