State legislators are sifting through rhetoric from two national lobbying groups that disagree on just how far governments should go to prevent drunken driving.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving is pushing the Kansas Legislature to pass a law that would require first-time DUI offenders to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles. Ignition interlocks require drivers to blow into a device that registers blood-alcohol content levels. If a driver is above a legal limit, a 0.08 BAC in Kansas, then the vehicle won’t start.
“From MADD’s perspective, anyone who violates the public trust by illegally driving drunk with a BAC of 0.08 deserves the ignition interlock,” said Frank Harris, state legislative affairs manager for MADD.
The American Beverage Institute, which represents more than 100 restaurants in Kansas, believes the bill will set an overreaching precedent for all drivers.
Currently, Kansas requires ignition interlocks for repeat DUI offenders and first-time offenders who have a BAC of almost twice the legal limit. The American Beverage Institute supports that existing law but believes judges should have more discretion when it comes to first-time offenders.
A 120-pound women who drinks two glasses of wine in two hours and drove would be treated the same as an average guy who had 10 drinks, said Sarah Longwell, managing director for the American Beverage Institute.
“Under this rationale, it would be like someone who is one mile over the speed limit would be the same as someone 30 miles over,” Longwell said.
Harris said the law would target binge drinkers, not social drinkers.
The Kansas bill is part of a larger campaign for MADD, which wants all convicted drunken drivers in every state to have ignition interlocks.
“It helps to reduce DUIs. It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s one thing to build your DUI law around,” Harris said.
The organization also is working with other groups on technology that would equip cars with a less obtrusive device for detecting drivers over the legal limit.
It’s the thought of that device that worries Longwell.
“We’re drawing a line in the sand,” Longwell said. “This technology is great, but it should only be used by offenders, hard core offenders.”
So far, 13 states have required first-time DUI offenders to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles. In Kansas, the devices would be put in place for a year following the first-time offender’s one-year driving suspension.
The proposal for ignition interlocks is part of Senate Bill 7, which also includes legislation for having repeat DUI offenders serve prison time and tougher laws for drivers who refuse to take a breath test.
Both MADD and the American Beverage Institute have plans to testify in person when the bill goes into Senate hearings this week.