Missouri's ignition lock law takes effect next week

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As many as 70,000 Missouri residents convicted of alcohol-related traffic offenses could have to install breath-monitoring devices on their vehicles if they want to legally drive after July 1.

Across Southeast Missouri, those who work to install these devices in vehicles are expecting to see an increase in the number of installation jobs.

Audio 1 of Cape Girardeau doesn't supply interlocks but arranges use, training and installation when someone is ordered by a court to have one in their car, said manager Dave Creech. Audio 1's supplier is Evergreen Interlock, a Kansas City-based company.

Creech said Audio 1 typically schedules and performs about 10 installations a month.

"We haven't noticed an increase, but people tell us it's on the way," Creech said.

The new Missouri law is targeted primarily at repeat drunken drivers who are seeking to regain their licenses, but it also applies to anyone convicted of involuntary manslaughter while driving drunk.

Ignition interlocks prevent engines from starting until drivers breathe into an alcohol detector to prove they are sober.

Nearly all states give judges the option of ordering the devices for drunken drivers. In the past few years, about 20 states have passed laws mandating their use for first-time or repeat offenders, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Missouri's law could have a particularly broad effect because it applies to people convicted of drunken driving as long as 10 years ago who are just now eligible to regain their licenses.

The Missouri Department of Revenue, which issues driver's licenses, plans to send more than 70,000 letters to offenders in early July notifying them of the need to get ignition interlocks to legally drive again. The law requires them to be used for six months.

Offenders must cover the costs for the devices, which can range from $30 to $200 to install and an additional $70 to $100 a month to rent.

Creech said Audio 1 handles not only a majority of the court-ordered interlock installations for Southeast Missouri but allows users to take care of the training and other associated paperwork in the store because the office manager had a sister killed in an accident involving a drunken driver.

"It's kind of touched all of us," Creech said.

Those who drive without the devices after July 1 could face an additional two-year license suspension.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which backs ignition interlock requirements for anyone convicted of drunken driving, says the devices have led to a significant decline in the number of repeat offenders. It cites a 2008 study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation that found interlock devices in New Mexico helped decrease repeat offenses by about two-thirds.

But Kansas City defense attorney Matthew Guilfoil, who specializes in driving-while-intoxicated cases, says the devices can produce false results from spicy food or cigarettes and can cause accidents by requiring drivers to re-verify they're sober while the vehicle is running. He described Missouri's law as "draconian."

"It's going back and punishing people again for an old offense" by adding a new requirement to reinstate their driver's licenses, Guilfoil said.

A 2001 Missouri law allowed judges to order ignition interlocks for people convicted of at least two drunken-driving offenses. Former governor Matt Blunt sought to mandate the devices through the state's license administration because he said judges weren't imposing the requirement enough.

The tougher Missouri law was passed in 2008 but doesn't go into effect until next month.

Staff writer Bridget DiCosmo contributed to this report.

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