Kaua‘i legislators support interlock law

Hawai‘i Gov. Linda Lingle signed a bill into law Friday to protect the public from drunk drivers.

House Bill 3377 establishes the framework to implement an ignition interlock system in cars to prevent convicted drunk drivers from operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Now known as Act 170, the measure allows the installation of ignition interlock devices on the vehicles of those who have been previously arrested for driving under the influence.

In order to start the car, the driver would have to blow into the device. If the blood-alcohol content is above 0.02 percent, the car will not start.

Act 170 also creates the Hawai‘i Ignition Interlock Implementation Task Force to perfect the details of the program and recommend any changes to the state Legislature before the start of the 2009 session.

The task force will focus on the details of the system, including how to apply the law to motorcycle users, how to treat drivers under 18 years old and whether drivers can remove the device early for good behavior.

Use of the devices could start as soon as July 1, 2010, once the Legislature addresses these issues.

“This law, which is the result of collaborative efforts of many individuals statewide, provides another tool to deter drunk driving,” Lingle says in a press release. “Everything we can do as a community to prevent one more person from driving drunk will save a life and reduce the senseless tragedies that are taking place on our streets and highways.”

Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i, said he feels the measure will send a firm message to keep people from drinking and driving altogether.

“I think (the law) is another strong and important step in keeping drunk drivers off the roads,” he said. “It will certainly remind them that they can’t drink and drive.”

Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-15th District, said the bill will provide the public greater assurance of their safety.

“It’s great the Legislature introduced and passed the bill and that the governor signed it,” he said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others in the community worked closely with the governor to carry out the ignition interlock system in Hawai‘i.

“This is an exciting day for MADD Hawai‘i, as we are a strong proponent for the requirement of ignition interlock systems in the vehicles of drunk driving offenders,” Carol McNamee, founder of MADD Hawai‘i, says in a press release.

“With the excellent framework that HB 3377 provides, we hope that Hawai‘i will end up with an effective interlock system to reduce drunk driving deaths, as these devices make roadways safer and prevent more families from going through the trauma of losing a loved one in a drunk driving crash.”

Before the governor signed the bill into law, Hawai‘i was one of only five states without an ignition interlock law.

In 2006, Lt. Governor James “Duke” Aiona Jr., as acting governor, signed into law a bill to reduce drunk driving.

Act 198, which took effect in 2007, increased the penalties for anyone who operates a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher.

Anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher would be subject to a mandatory suspension of his or her driver’s license and vehicle registration.

Additionally, if convicted in court for operating a vehicle while highly intoxicated, the driver will receive a six-month absolute driver’s license suspension, must attend a 14-hour-minimum substance abuse rehabilitation program, and any one or more of the following: 72 hours of community service; 48 hours to five days of jail time; and $150 to $1,000 fine, or a $25 neurotrauma special fund surcharge.

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