MADD lobbies Michigan to expand ignition interlock use

Evan Carter
The Detroit News

Pointing to rising numbers of alcohol-related deaths on Michigan roads, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is pushing state lawmakers to expand the use of ignition interlocks among motorists convicted of driving under the influence.

A Tokai Denshi employee holds an alcohol-specific fuel cell sensor, part of the company's latest breath alcohol ignition interlock device called the "ALC-LOCK" during a press preview in Tokyo on May 27, 2009. To avoid drunk driving, Tokai Denshi introduced the new system onto the Japanese market from May 27. Drink driving is a problem on Japan's crowded and narrow roads despite owning one of the best public transportation networks in the world.

The group conducted a daylong lobbying effort last week at the state Capitol in Lansing, where lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow judges to order interlock devices for any drunken driving convict.

MADD officials cited a recent report from the organization that found ignition interlocks have prevented 1.77 million attempts to drive under the influence. In Michigan, the devices have prevented more than 86,000 drunken driving attempts since 2010, when the state passed its present ignition interlock law.

According to the group, 25 states require all DUI offenders to use one of the cellphone-sized devices in their vehicles.

Michigan is among 13 states that require the devices for first-time offenders who exceeded a certain blood-alcohol level.

In Michigan, the threshold is .17, more than twice the legal limit of .08. The state also requires interlocks for all repeat offenders.

“Imagine how many more tragedies could be prevented on Michigan’s roadways if every drunk driving offender used an ignition interlock during their license suspension period,” Tyler MacEachran, program director of MADD’s Michigan state office, said in a statement.

Ignition interlock devices prevent drivers from starting their engine until they have passed a Breathalyzer test.

According to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, 303 people were killed in drunken driving crashes in 2015, up from 236 in 2014. Overall traffic deaths are up so far this year, with 332 fatalities as of May 24, up 51 from the same time in 2015.

MADD volunteer Diane Mierzejewski of Paw Paw, whose son Curtis was killed by a drunken driver in 2011, said his death totally changed her life.

“If we can save one family having to go through what my family has had to go through, I feel my son didn’t die in vain,” she said.

Mierzejewski said she hoped the lobbying day would raise awareness and bring solutions to a problem that she said happens on Michigan roads every day.

“The legislation they’re hoping to pass would help the person who got pulled over to still be able to go to work and help their family and maybe change a negative into a positive with the ignition interlock system,” she said.

Steve Cleveland of Smart Start, a Texas-based company that sells ignition interlock, demonstrates one of the devices Wednesday, May 25, in Lansing.

State Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, introduced a bill in March that would allow judges to require first-time DUI offenders or those whose sentence has been pleaded down to impaired driving to use an ignition interlock as an alternative to having their license suspended.

“This would be an additional tool that the judge can use instead of an automatic license suspension,” Kesto said, allowing offenders to commute to work and avoid losing their jobs.

“Right now, if you are convicted of a super drunk or a second offense drunk driving or even a first offense drunk driving, there are automatic license restrictions,” he said.

HB 5456 is being considered by the House Judiciary Committee, which Kesto chairs.

Kesto said he is confident his legislation will become law by the end of this session after winning approval last session for a bill he sponsored that requires higher standards for ignition interlock technology.

“[The previous legislation] laid the groundwork for the current legislation,” he said.


MacEachran said expanding the use of ignition interlocks would provide a greater deterrent against repeat drunken driving than suspending offenders’ licenses.

“What we’ve found and our law enforcement partners have found is that just losing a piece of paper isn’t going to stop a repeat offender from just crossing their fingers and driving,” he said.

According to a statement released by MADD, DUI offenders who don’t use ignition interlock were 3.2 times more likely to fail a Sobriety Court program than offenders who did use ignition interlock.

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