Twenty-eight members of the Iowa Senate have voted to try to “entice” first-time convicted drunken drivers to install special ignition locks on their vehicles. It means the cars will not start unless the driver blows into the device and the machine confirms their blood alcohol level is below the legal limit.
The bill does not require ignition “interlocks” for first-time offenders who were caught driving drunk, but did not do any damage to property or injure any people.
“If you voluntarily test and you’re below .10 (blood alcohol level), there’s no mandate that you get an interlock (device),” said Senator Chris Brase, a Democrat from Muscatine. “You can serve out your suspension and get your license renewal, but what we’re doing is we’re trying to entice people to get the interlock devices.”
If those first-time offenders install an interlock device, the fines will be cut in half — from $1250 to $625. Plus, they’ll be able to keep driving rather than face a six-month license suspension.
“The Mothers Against Drunk Driving are in full support of this. They believe that by getting interlock devices in these people’s cars, we can reduce the number of repeat offenders and drunk driving,” Brace said. “…The goal of the interlock devices are to keep people working — to do away with the suspension and keep them on the job.”
Low-income Iowans would also get to install the interlocks at a reduced price. But 20 Republicans like Senator Mark Chelgren of Ottumwa suggested that reduced the overall penalty for low-income Iowans caught driving drunk.
“I was always taught that justice is blind and that no one should be judged differently based on their socio-economic class, their religion, their creed, their color, their sexual orientation,” Chelgren said. “And, to me, this sets a dangerous precedent that we are judging people based on their socio-economic class and I just fundamentally believe that’s wrong.”
Senator Brase countered that the break on the cost of the interlock devices has been offered to low income Iowans by the manufacturers and does not come from the state.
“It’s about getting people to say: ‘I made a mistake. I need to change my ways,'” Brase said.
Senator Brian Schoenjahn, a Democrat from Arlington, said the idea for the bill came from one of his constituents.
“His great-grandson of five months old was killed by a drunk driver,” Schoenjahn says. “He started this last summer. Many phone calls, the efforts of a lot of people have gone into this bill and the people that have written me have told me: ‘My son, my daughter, my grandparent would not have been killed had this law been in effect.'”
Twenty other states have laws requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time drunk driving convictions. Under current Iowa law ignition interlocks are required for drunk drivers who cause property damage or personal injury as well as for those caught more than once driving drunk.