Friday, September 11, 2009
(09-10) 12:32 PDT Oakland --
A bill passed by the Legislature would require convicted drunken drivers in Alameda County and three other counties to blow into a device that would unlock their car ignitions only if it doesn't detect much alcohol on their breath.
If approved by the governor, the bill would establish a pilot ignition interlock program from 2010 to 2016 for those convicted of driving under the influence in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not yet taken a position on the bill, a spokesman said Thursday.
To start a car, a driver has to blow into a breath-test device on the steering wheel that is linked to the vehicle's ignition system. If the driver's blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit of 0.08 percent, the car won't start. The systems are paid for by convicted drunken drivers.
The bill is supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the California Highway Patrol and AAA.
In California, law enforcement officers made 203,866 DUI arrests in 2007. Drivers in the four counties accounted for about 40 percent of those arrests, according to MADD.
As it stands now, courts have the discretion - but are not mandated - to require the installation of ignition interlock devices for first-time and repeat DUI offenders. Under the bill, the interlock device replaces a restricted license, which would still allow a person to drive drunk, said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, the bill's sponsor.
"Since we have the technology that can help prevent drivers from getting behind the wheel after drinking, we should be using it," Feuer said. "Not only would this legislation help reduce the likelihood that innocent people will be harmed by drunk drivers, it also promotes sober driving habits."
Not everyone supports the bill.
The American Beverage Institute, which represents more than 700 California restaurants, said the state cannot afford to enforce the program, which it says would overwhelm state parole agents and local probation officers.
"This proposal ignores the root cause of today's drunk driving problem - hard-core alcohol abusers," said institute spokeswoman Sarah Longwell. "The California Legislature is poised to pass an unfunded mandate that targets the wrong people."
E-mail Henry K. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page D - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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