The celebration of a new year is too often tempered with a grim reminder of the fragility of life, as stories of drunken driving tragedies fill the news. As we learn more about the victims and the loved ones left behind, as well as the lost potential of the offenders, it is always painfully clear that although one person makes the decision to get behind the wheel after drinking, that decision can impact an entire community.
Even more upsetting is learning that the driver has committed this crime before. As the victim of a repeat drunken driver in 2007, I was incredibly lucky to have survived, but I was also very angry that this person, and far too many others, had committed this crime again.
After several years of hard work at the Legislature and in the community, I was pleased that 2011 marked the beginning of the ignition interlock program in Hawaii. With this program, people arrested for driving under the influence will be required to pay for the installation and operation of an ignition interlock device, if they wish to continue driving. The driver must blow a blood-alcohol content of less than .02 into the breathalyzer to start the vehicle.
After I introduced the first bill to establish a task force to lay the groundwork for this program in 2008, the Legislature passed two more bills in 2009 and 2010, based on the recommendations of that task force. I see the Legislature’s work on these bills as a prime example of what we can accomplish together on behalf of everyone we represent across Hawaii. The ignition interlock program ensures that individuals arrested for driving under the influence are permitted the safe and unimpaired usage of their motor vehicles. More importantly, however, the program stops them from repeating their crime, while making others think twice about the consequences of DUIs, even when no innocent bystanders are harmed.
While ignition interlock is first and foremost about making our roads and communities safer, it also represents how we can come together to change our state for the better. After being hit by a drunken driver, I saw the opportunity to strengthen our laws, but it took the collaboration of many groups and individuals, from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the members of the Ignition Interlock Task Force to my fellow elected officials and concerned citizens.
This session, I will be introducing another bill to address issues that have arisen as we put ignition interlock into practice. For instance, language should be added to the law to give repeat offenders the ability to petition to restore their registration, so that they may have the privilege of installing an interlock device — currently, their registrations and license plates are automatically revoked without the possibility of an ignition interlock. It is important to remember that driving is a privilege, not a right, and until we do pass further legislation, repeat offenders — for whom I have little sympathy — should be grateful that we are working to allow them the opportunity to install ignition interlocks and have a second chance to prove they are now responsible citizens.
The implementation of ignition interlock represents why every one of us should remain engaged with what our government does. When we see something wrong, we do have the power to work together to address it. That’s why it is so important to remember that your lawmakers are there to serve you. It can take perseverance to get things right, but ultimately it is well worth the effort to do something that impacts our entire state, for the better.