In first year, ignition interlock law called a success

Published: Dec. 31, 2011 at 2:27 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 31, 2011 at 3:46 AM HST
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Rep. Sharon Har
Rep. Sharon Har

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

KAPOLEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - At the corner of Farrington Highway and Fort Barrette Road in Kapolei, there are two wrecked cars on a flatbed trailer. They're there to remind motorists not to drink and drive during the holiday season.

It was along Fort Barrette Road that a state lawmaker was hit and injured by a drunk driver in 2007, which in turn gave rise to the ignition interlock law that is nearly a year old. And statistics show that it has reduced the number of drunk drivers on Hawaii roads.

The law lets people convicted of drunk driving to have the device installed in their vehicle instead of having their license revoked. A driver blows into it, and if the device detects alcohol on the driver's breath, the car won't start.

The law took effect at the beginning of 2011. The law's sponsor is calling it a success.

"Those who have been convicted of drunk driving, who were legally drunk, even up to two times over the legal limit, or had alcohol in their systems, were prevented from driving, thereby making Hawaii's roads safer for all of our residents," said Rep. Sharon Har  (D-Kapolei, Makakilo, Royal Kunia, Kalaeloa).

According to the state Department of Transportation, there were 983 ignition interlocks installed through December 13th. There were 601 installed on Oahu, 158 on Hawaii island (61 in Hilo and 97 in Kona), 28 on Kauai, and 196 on Maui. No interlocks were installed on Molokai or Lanai.

Those ignition interlocks prevented cars from starting 3,591 times. The DOT said in 3,282 cases, the driver blew a blood alcohol content level of .025 to .079 percent, just below the legal limit. In 200 cases, the driver blew the legal limit of .080 to .099; in 194 cases, the driver blew .100 to .159; and in 72 cases, the driver blew .16 -- twice the legal limit -- or more.

Har introduced the law after she was hit by a drunk driver in 2007. "The drunk driver who hit me, he had been a third time offender, his license had been revoked, he had no license, he had no insurance. He was not even supposed to be driving," she said.

So far, 15 percent of first-time drunk drivers have opted to have the device installed in their car. "Unfortunately, many drivers still do not want the ignition interlock device in their car because they know that once they're caught drinking, they will not be able to start their cars because of the breathalyzer test," said Har.

However, the program's success has convinced Har that it could be expanded to include repeat offenders to keep them from hitting the road if they've been drinking.

Earlier story: High hopes for ignition interlock

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