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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tougher ignition interlock law touted for Idaho

Though Idaho’s senior senator likely will be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in his car after his Virginia DUI arrest, that wouldn’t have been the case in his home state of Idaho. Idaho doesn’t require the devices for first-time DUI offenders, but there’s a growing chorus of groups saying it should. Seventeen states, including Washington and Virginia, require the devices to prevent even first-time convicted drunken drivers from starting up their cars while under the influence. But Idaho requires the devices only for repeat offenders. When Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo was stopped for suspected drunken driving in Virginia on Dec. 23 after running a red light, he registered a 0.11 blood-alcohol level at the scene, and a higher, 0.14 level in a test taken later at the Alexandria, Va. jail. Crapo, a first-time offender who was known as a teetotaler due to his Mormon faith, has said he doesn’t plan to contest the charges; his court date is Friday. Virginia law likely will require him to get an interlock device to drive, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver’s breath reveals the presence of alcohol. Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board called for all states to require the devices for first-time drunken driving offenders, and sent letters to states including Idaho asking for their response within 90 days. “It’s time for the other 33 states to step up for safety and require ignition interlocks for all offenders,” said Deborah Hersman, NTSB chairwoman. Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Reed Hollinshead said, “Our office still has this letter under review.” In the meantime, AAA of Idaho and Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Idaho are among groups that have been calling for a tougher ignition interlock law in the Gem state. “When we looked at the data based on everything that’s out there, this looks to be the strongest mechanism out there right now that would sort of trump everything we’ve done previously,” said Dave Carlson, spokesman for AAA Idaho. He noted that while nationally about a third of highway fatalities are alcohol-related, Idaho’s figure is considerably higher at nearly 40 percent. Washington saw repeat offenses among first-time drunken drivers fall by 12 percent after it expanded its interlock law to all offenders in 2004, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The study found that only a third of the newly targeted offenders actually got the devices, because many others pled to lesser charges including negligent driving, which doesn’t carry the interlock device requirement. The institute estimated that if all convicted first offenders had gotten the devices, recidivism would have fallen by half. Kansas, which passed its all-offender ignition interlock law in 2011, has reported even more dramatic results. There, preliminary data from the Kansas Department of Transportation showed that in the law’s first year, there were 59 alcohol-related traffic fatalities, down from 125 the previous year and 137 the year before that. “More states are paying attention,” Carlson said, calling the devices “more effective than other prevention methods.” Idaho judges have the option of ordering the devices even for first-time offenders, but Carlson said they seldom have. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been advocating for the devices for all offenders since 2006. “There is no longer a debate on interlock effectiveness,” said Jan Withers, MADD national president. Idaho’s alcohol-related traffic fatalities actually fell significantly from 2007 to 2011, from 101 to 66, according to ITD data. But so did all traffic fatalities in the state, part of a long-term trend that experts attribute to everything from better-engineered cars and roadways to increased seatbelt use. During the same time period, the percentage of Idaho fatalities that were alcohol-related dropped from 43.5 percent to 39.5 percent, but remained well above the national rate, which has been between 30 and 32 percent since 1995.