The Massachusetts legislature is currently considering a bill that would end mandatory license suspensions and waiting periods for hardship licenses for those convicted of driving under the influence. If passed, the new law would give those drivers an option to install an ignition interlock device (“IID”) in every vehicle they operate rather than endure a minimum 1-year suspension of their driving privileges. The bill has passed the Senate and was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on July 28, 2016. If passed by the House and signed into law by Governor Baker, Massachusetts would become the 27th state requiring an IID for all those convicted of driving under the influence, including first time offenders. Currently, however, the bill has no sponsors. In the opinion of our office, that fact, coupled with public backlash over MA first offenders getting back on the road again quickly, will likely doom this bill.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (“MADD”) is supportive of the bill and has been lobbying for similar legislation nationwide. MADD claims that in states where license suspensions have been replaced with the use of IID’s, drunk driving deaths have decreased by 30% and repeat offenses have dropped by 66%.
There is some support for those claims. California has been conducting a pilot program to study the effects of IID’s since July 2010. The California studies have shown a measurable decrease in the number or repeat offenses for those drivers using an IID than those with suspended or revoked licenses.
The California experience, however, is that those benefits diminish over time. For example, 2nd offenders that installed an IID had a lower rate of recidivism than those with a suspended or revoked license for only about two years. After two years the rates of recidivism were about the same.
The ongoing California studies also show that those drivers using an IID have an increased risk of crash involvement. That is likely because drivers using an IID are subject to random “rolling tests” where the driver is required to blow into the device while driving to ensure they have not consumed alcohol after the vehicle has been started. The California study points out that this is especially troubling because 30% to over 40% of those crashes result in fatalities or injuries. Those figures clearly call into question whether there is any net benefit to public safety.
Regardless of the possible net-negative impact on public safety, the trend of requiring IID’s for all drivers convicted of operating under the influence is likely to continue. Political pressures, in no small part caused by the national campaign and lobbying efforts of MADD, to appear tough on drunk drivers are undoubtedly strong. The bill currently has no sponsors so is unlikley to survive the rigorous legislative process in our opinion.