It’s one thing to tell someone who has been convicted of driving under the influence that he or she can’t drive. It’s an entirely different thing to physically prevent that person from starting the car when he or she has consumed alcoholic beverages.
That’s why it only makes sense that a new Kansas law that requires first-time DUI offenders to install ignition interlocks on their cars would have a positive effect on the number of alcohol-related accidents reported in the state.
A decrease in alcohol-related traffic accidents and fatalities always is good news. State officials reported a 12 percent drop in alcohol-related accidents: from 2,801 in 2010 to 2,463 in 2011. There was an even more dramatic drop in fatal accidents involving alcohol: from 138 in 2010 to 76 in 2011, a decline of about 45 percent.
Officials aren’t ready to say that the new ignition interlock law, which went into effect on July 1, 2011, was the primary reason for the decline. They say intense news coverage of the new DUI law and a statewide effort to crack down on drunken driving probably also helped drive the number of incidents down. Nonetheless, common sense tells us the ignition interlocks would be a strong contributing factor.
Suspending a person’s driver’s license doesn’t keep that person from driving. In far too many cases over the years, serious alcohol-related accidents have involved impaired drivers with previous DUI convictions. Many of those people were driving without valid driver’s licenses, but that didn’t keep them from getting behind the wheel. Having to use an ignition interlock device that measures their blood-alcohol content before allowing them to start their cars creates a physical impediment to such drivers.
Most states have ignition interlock laws, but Kansas is one of just 15 states that has such a law for first-time DUI offenders. Drivers convicted of a DUI must apply for modified licenses that allow them to drive only cars equipped with an ignition interlock and present proof that such a device has been installed in their cars, at their expense. According to the Kansas Department of Revenue, nearly 3,000 Kansas drivers had applied for such licenses from July 1, 2011, through March 2, 2012. First-time offenders must use the interlock device for a year.
It’s certainly possible for drivers to evade the law by driving an unmonitored vehicle, but stiffer DUI penalties that also went into effect last July — including fines, license suspensions, jail time and possible felony convictions for repeat offenders — provide added incentive not to drink and then drive.
As state officials noted, it’s too soon to know whether the ignition interlock provision should get the credit for the decline in alcohol-related accidents or is just part of an overall successful strategy in the state. Either way, the decline in alcohol-related accidents and deaths is good news for Kansas.