For those ringing in the new year by drinking in the new year, take note: Hawaii’s new ignition interlock law takes effect Saturday.
The law will require drivers whose licenses are revoked after a drunk driving arrest to install a breathalyzer in their vehicles that forces drivers to blow into a device.
The device prevents a car from starting if a driver’s breath alcohol concentration is .02 or higher — roughly the equivalent of a single drink.
Hawaii becomes the 48th state with an ignition interlock law aimed at deterring people from driving drunk and decreasing the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii founder Carol McNamee said the law is important because it takes a driver identified as risky off the road and who, without the device, would be able to continue that behavior.
"This makes it impossible for a person with a breath alcohol concentration of .02 to drive and pose a risk to people," she said yesterday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found the one-year use of an interlock system by DUI offenders reduces recidivism by 50 to 90 percent and alcohol-related traffic deaths by 7 percent. McNamee said the new law is a win-win because it enables drivers arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant to drive legally sooner. They will be able to continue "driving their families, going to work and doing anything they normally would do if they’re sober."
The Department of Transportation held a news conference yesterday in which the state’s exclusive interlock device vendor, Smart Start Inc., demonstrated the system at Progressive Auto Sounds in Aiea, one of 12 service centers in the state authorized to install the systems.
Taxpayers are not footing the bill; DUI offenders will pay $84 for installation and a monthly $89 leasing fee.
The state Administrative Driver’s License Revocation Office will take away a violator’s driver’s license and issue a temporary permit indicating the interlock device requirement.
While the new law extends license revocation periods, it also allows most drivers arrested for DUI to continue driving as soon as they obtain an interlock permit.
A first-time offender arrested for drunken driving who blows over the limiit or who refuses to submit to alcohol testing will be subject to a one-year license revocation but may drive with an interlock device.
A two-time offender is subject to an 18-month license revocation; a three-time offender, two years; and an offender with more than three offenses will be subject to five to 10 years’ license revocation and will no longer be allowed to drive.
The device is designed to deter tampering. Abram Garcia, operations director for Texas-based Smart Start Inc., said, "We’ve had incidents where the device was tampered with. It will report any type of tampering."
Tampering with the device, having someone else blow into the device or borrowing someone else’s car are all crimes.
Another change to Hawaii law starting Saturday is that refusal to take a breath or blood alcohol test will be a crime, a petty misdemeanor up from an administrative violation.
However, failing the ignition interlock’s breath alcohol test is not a crime. Data from the interlock system will be downloaded each time the driver takes the vehicle to a service center for monthly checks. The data will be transmitted to Smart Start’s Dallas office.
The company will send it to the state Transportation Department, which will transmit any red-flagged drivers’ data to the Administrative Driver’s License Revocation Office.
Failure to report for the monthly checks will result in the vehicle’s ignition being locked.
Also, failing to take one of two required running retests — required once a car is started — will result in the ignition locking after the engine is turned off.
Patrick McPherson, a defense lawyer who specializes in DUI cases and was on the state’s task force for the interlock system, said, "I don’t think there’s a lot of loopholes."
Police Capt. Keith Lima of HPD’s Traffic Division said, "It’s not new technology. It’s just new to us. I think it’ll be successful here" where there are 4,000 DUI arrests a year.
Kauai police Lt. Mark Scribner said, "If we can save one life, it’d be worth it."
CORRECTION: Under the ignition interlock law that takes effect Jan. 1, anyone whose license has been revoked for drunken driving will be required to have the device if they want to continue driving. A previous version of this story did not make clear that the law does not automatically apply when there is a drunken driving arrest.