2016 Update: The Massachusetts House declined to take up the interlock bill this year before the Legislative session ended on 7/31/16.
While it did pass the Senate, since the lower chamber did not act on the bill, it looks like it is dead for another year. No reason was giving why the House never took up the bill.
4/27/16: Attorney Andrew DiCarlo Berman calls this proposed law “draconian” in a Boston Globe news story by reporter Laura Crimaldi. Attorney Berman is Senior Trial Counsel at the Law Offices of Russell J Matson.
The Massachusetts State Senate is considering a bill to require an ignition interlock device for any first offense drunk driving conviction. State Senator James Timilty is behind the bill, and will bring it before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.
The new law would require all first-time OUI offenders to install the device in any vehicle they drive for 1 year, or have their license remain under suspension for a year.
This bill would be absolutely devastating to anyone who makes a one-time mistake and has to drive company vehicles to earn a living (see below).
Under current Massachusetts law, an ignition interlock is only required after a 2nd offense conviction, which was passed as part of Melanie’s Law in 2005. Twenty-five states already require an IID for a first offense conviction.
What is an Ignition Interlock Device?
An ignition interlock device is simply a breathalyzer test for your car. By blowing into a tube, it can detect if you’ve had any alcohol to drink. If any is detected it will lock out your ignition, and not allow you to start your car. It is generally set to trigger at a very low alcohol detection level, such as at .02% BAC.
So even one drink will trigger the device, and log a failed attempted. This low threshold can be a problem in itself, in that false positives can happen in many cases. For example, if you just used mouthwash, which typically contains alcohol, that can be enough to set off a warning.
What’s the Downside of Requiring an Interlock?
Currently, a first offense OUI is not the end of the world for most people. While it is a serious charge, and is embarrassing, it is usually manageable without destroying your life. It’s somewhere between a minor and significant inconvenience, and can certainly be expensive.
But for quite a few people whose livelihoods depend on their ability to drive company vehicles or rental cars while traveling – an interlock is often the end of their employment.
If you drive your own car every day, you can usually manage just fine with a limited hardship license as currently available, or even an interlock. But if you drive company vehicles, your boss is simply not going to equip his fleet with interlock devices just so you can drive them.
For someone who is facing loss of employment, now they are in a position where it probably makes sense for them to try to fight the charges in court at trial, instead of accepting a plea that requires an interlock. Better to roll the dice and take a chance on being found not guilty, then accept a deal that is going to end their ability to work.
It is true that those who’ve been found guilty (or the near equivalent here in Mass, a Continuance Without a Finding, or CWOF) of an OUI charge are not the most sympathetic victims in the eyes of the public.
But, most people, if they are honest, will admit that it is possible they’ve driven while slightly impaired under the law once or twice. Not dangerously or recklessly so, but perhaps just over the limit. If they’d been pulled over at an inopportune time, it’s very possible they’d have faced an OUI charge.
This law might be good news for defense lawyers like me, in the form of higher trial fees and fewer plea deals, but probably isn’t good news for the justice system as a whole.
How Often Do People Really Re-Offend?
MADD and other advocates throw around a lot of statistics, such as 67% recidivism, and alleging that as many as 75% will continue to drive even with a suspended license.
These numbers are questionable, but it is not clear what problem this would solve. Those who can’t manage with an interlock would be just as inclined to skip it, and continue driving on a suspended license if all of that is true.
And most people who get a DUI conviction are horrified and embarrassed and are too terrified to ever drink and drive again.
There is a reasonable argument for an interlock requirement as a penalty in second offense cases. Only a fraction of people with a single DUI conviction ever get in trouble again. A second conviction is a clear signal that a person may have a problem with alcohol abuse, impulse control, or generally following the rules. While this is a minority of the population, it makes sense to take assurances that these folks are prevented from getting behind the wheel while impaired.
Judicial Discretion is a Better Answer
Other states have optional 1st offense interlock only by judicial recommendation, or in “High BAC” cases. Where a defendant has displayed truly reckless behavior, such as driving while at nearly twice the legal limit (blowing a .15% BAC or higher), or some other evidence suggesting seriously reckless and chronically dangerous behavior, and not just a minor slip-up.
But an additional burden on people who have had a single embarrassing brush with the law – where no harm has come to anyone – just doesn’t make sense.
Past National Efforts to Force States to Comply with a Mandatory 1st Offense Interlock Requirement
Previous efforts in 2014 to force national 1st offense interlock requirements included the threat of reduced Federal transportation funds provided to any state that did not comply.
This previously proposed federal legislation was introduced by Congresswoman Nita Lowey from New York that would require any first offense drunk driving conviction to have a mandatory six-month ignition interlock device. Tying state compliance to federal highway funding is the exact strategy the Feds and Congresswoman Lowey used to force a national .08% BAC standard in 2000.
According to Forbes.com, HR 5025, would direct the Federal Department of Transportation to enforce a minimum 180-day interlock device standard mandate at the state law level for any drunk driving defense. The bill was called “Alisa’s Law“, named after Alisa Joy, the daughter of the current President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.