JEFFERSON CITY–Rep. Charlie Denison, R-Springfield, hopes to give first-time drunk drivers a chance to redeem themselves and, at the same time, reduce the number of serious alcohol-related accidents in the state.
Denison’s House Bill 2063 (HB 2063) requiring new high-tech ignition locking devices would make it possible to accomplish both goals.
Intoxicated drivers automatically get a 90-day suspension of their drivers’ licenses the first time they are caught driving drunk, but many of them ignore the restriction and drive anyway.
“Losing the license takes away the privilege of work, of providing for the family. It increases the risk of injuring someone else because most people are going to drive with a suspended license,” Denison said.
“If they lose their license, they have no insurance. They take more risks because they don’t feel they have anything to lose.”
Denison, a member of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, became aware of the problem during his first term in office. He has tried several times to find a workable solution. New technology gives him hope that his legislation will pass before he leaves office at the end of this year due to term limits.
HB 2063 would allow a first-time offender to drive legally by having an ignition locking device installed in the car.
The law would require that the device be able to test the driver’s blood alcohol level before the vehicle will start and that it be able to administer random tests during the course of the drive. If the blood alcohol content is above the .08 percent legal limit, the device will take a picture of the driver and shut off the engine. Thirty states now use similar devices.
While a judge could still choose to suspend a license, he or she would have the option of requiring the defendant to use a device for six months instead. A second offense would require the use of the device for one year. A fifth offense would require its use for life.
Kerry Messer, legislative liaison for the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission, reported that Denison’s bill is getting support from law enforcement, the alcohol industry, and organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
At a hearing by the House Transportation Committee, MADD presented a number of families who stood with photos of their deceased loved ones.
Messer testified at the hearing that his brother and sister-in-law were killed by a drunk driver, and his grandchildren were hospitalized by a drunk driver.
These drivers, he said, often have no insurance and no financial means for an injured party to seek restitution.
Messer noted that there are multiple manufacturers of the locking devices, so it is a competitive market.
“With this, it disables the vehicle. They can’t have that wreck,” Messer said.
He pointed out that, since the device photographs and tests the driver, it furnishes proof of who was at the wheel and that persons’ drunkenness or sobriety in the event of an accident.
“Driving is a privilege,” Denison said. “Let’s continue that privilege with people who have a problem, if we can. It’s better than putting them in a position of continually breaking the law.”
Denison’s bill was approved unanimously by the House Transportation Committee. He hopes to attach it to an omnibus bill in order to get it approved by both houses before the General Assembly adjourns in May.