POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 15, 2010
Drunken drivers will have to get ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles starting in January as the state tries to prevent repeat offenders from threatening the safety of other motorists.
The devices, which cost about $75 to $85 a month, block drivers from starting their vehicles if they have consumed alcohol. Drivers must blow into the devices and register no more than a 0.02 breath alcohol content reading, which for most people is equivalent to a beer or a glass of wine.
Even first-time offenders will have to get ignition interlock devices for one year as part of the penalties for drunken driving. Repeat offenders, who are often considered the most dangerous to other motorists, will have to have the devices for progressively longer periods, from 18 months for a second offense to more than five years after a fourth offense.
State lawmakers originally passed an ignition interlock bill in 2008 but, after working with a community task force, have refined it over the past two years.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona signed a bill into law yesterday that removes a probation requirement for second- and third-time offenders because of the cost given the state's budget deficit.
The new law also makes it a crime to tamper with an ignition interlock device or for a sober person to blow into a device so a drunken driver can start their vehicle. The law also makes it a petty misdemeanor for drivers to refuse a breath, blood or urine test.
The state still has to select a vendor to provide ignition interlock devices before the law takes effect in January. The vendor will also set a fee schedule for drunken drivers, including a plan to cover low-income drivers who might not be able to afford the devices.
Most states on the mainland have some form of ignition interlock law.
"This law is definitely needed. This is another tool that we will have in our toolbox. It's something that obviously will help," Aiona said at a news conference at the state Capitol. "But the bottom line is this: It's a matter of behavior."
Carol McNamee, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii, said the ignition interlock program would build on the state's administrative license revocation penalty for drunken drivers.
"The public will benefit because more known impaired drivers will be kept off our roads, so there will be fewer crashes, and there should also be fewer fatalities," she said. "The offenders will benefit because after Jan. 1, for only about $3 per day, they will be given an electronic device that will allow them to legally drive at any time and anywhere they want to go. No restriction, other than that they be sober."
State Rep. Sharon Har (D, Royal Kunia-Makakilo-Kapolei), who was injured in 2007 after a drunken driver hit her car, was one of the main forces behind the law.
"We are sending a message to our citizens that drunk driving will no longer be tolerated," she said. "This law will now ensure that drunk drivers can no longer drive while under the influence."
State Sen. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Molokai-Lanai) said the law is a policy call that recognizes that most people arrested and convicted of drunken driving still need to drive to function.
"The reality is that people whose licenses have been revoked still need to get to work, to transport their families and to fulfill other obligations," he said. "And there is still no efficient alternative to driving."
In Honolulu, drunken driving arrests have returned to relative stability after a spike two years ago. Honolulu police made 3,904 arrests in 2007, 4,282 arrests in 2008 and 3,991 arrests in 2009, according to HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha said the broader message for motorists is not to drink and drive.
"Our whole objective as a police department is to keep our roads safe, and this is just another tool in our arsenal to make sure that the roads remain safe for everyone," he said.