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Federal Agency Supports Ignition Interlocks for First-Time Drunk Driving Offenders

On the release of new fatal car accident statistics involving drivers under the influence, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration voiced its support of ignition interlocks for first-time drunk driving offenders. The state of Texas does not currently require all first-time drinking and driving offenders to install ignition interlocks, but federal support of the penalty may eventually lead to a change in Texas.

According to the federal auto-safety regulator, that majority of drunk drivers in the U.S. that cause fatal crashes have a blood alcohol content twice the legal limit. The NHTSA reports that more than 70 percent of deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers in 2010 involved a driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher. The legal limit in Texas is 0.08.

The statistics were quoted during a regulatory and law enforcement conference on ignition interlocks. So far 17 states have passed laws that require first-time offenders to obtain ignition interlocks before regaining the privilege to drive. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Texas generally requires the use of ignition interlocks for blood alcohol content greater than 0.15 or for second or multiple drinking and driving offenses. States are left to determine how to implement ignition interlocks; however, Texas and other states may soon be encouraged to use ignition interlocks on all first-time offenders.

A national transportation law that passed earlier this year goes into effect in October, and the law will provide states with additional highway funds if they have interlock laws for convicted drunk drivers. Congress's power of the purse may then hold enough sway to toughen Texas's drunk driving laws.

Source: Businessweek, "Drivers Twice Limit Involved in Most Drunk-Driving Deaths," Angela Greiling Keane, Aug. 14, 2012

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