Pennsylvania is now among the ranks of states that will require many first-time drunk drivers to use ignition interlocks under a bill that Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law on May 25, 2016.

Every year, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation releases statistics on alcohol-related crashes in its publication, Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics. Year after year, the report shows that alcohol-related accidents are significantly more likely to result in fatality than accidents not involving alcohol. In 2014, for example, alcohol-related crashes accounted for 9 percent of total crashes but 28 percent of total traffic deaths.

To address the issue of drinking while driving, Pennsylvania has taken many actions in the past, including implementing sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols. Any driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or above may be charged with a DUI. However, Pennsylvania state legislators recently took an aggressive step towards preventing drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel. In May 2016, they passed SB 290, legislation which requires that ignition interlocks be installed on the vehicles of drivers who have driven at any time with a BAC of .10 or above.

What is an Ignition Interlock?

An ignition interlock is a breathalyzer which is installed on a driver’s vehicle. When a driver wants to drive his or her vehicle, he or she must blow into the device for breath analysis. If the breath sample shows no sign of alcohol content, the ignition interlock will start the vehicle.

Even as ignition interlock devices become more sensitive, common problems still occur. If a person eats food containing alcohol, rinses his or her mouth with alcohol-containing mouthwash, or has an abnormal breathing pattern, such as after exercise, the ignition interlock may not allow him or her to start the car.

SB 290 & HB 278: Ignition Interlock Legislation

Recently, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) joined Senator John Rafferty and Representative Keith Greiner to urge legislators to support legislation to install ignition interlocks on the vehicles of drivers whose BAC was at .10 or greater for a first-time DUI offense. Second-time and subsequent DUI offenders were already required to use an ignition interlock for up to a year, during the period in which their licenses are restricted. SB 290, introduced in the Pennsylvania State Senate, and the similar HB 278, in the House of Representatives, include the imposition of similar penalties for first-time offenders.

Proponents of the legislation argued that installing an ignition interlock on the vehicles of first-time offenders will reduce drunk driving rates and incidents of fatality due to drunk driving. They pointed to recent statistics from MADD which show that interlock devices have prevented approximately 1.77 million drunk driving attempts and, with them, the loss of immeasurable lives.

Opponents, on the other hand, argued that penalties for first-time drunk driving were already severe enough, that not all first-time offenders are at risk of becoming repeat offenders, and that ignition interlocks are, at best, imperfectly designed. Additionally, ignition interlocks will cost an offender approximately $100 for installation and $50-$100 per month for the lease, an expense that will likely be added to any fines imposed. Prior to the enactment of SB 290, the consequences for driving while drunk in Pennsylvania for first-time offenders included an ungraded misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and $2500 in fines. Requiring the installation of an ignition interlock for first-time offenders makes these already harsh penalties even tougher.

An Experienced Montgomery County Criminal Defense Attorney at Fienman Defense Can Help You

If you’ve been involved in an alcohol-related crash or were pulled over for driving under the influence, contact one of the experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at Fienman Defense today. We’ve helped numerous individuals face DUI charges, so we understand the pain and hassle that comes with a DUI charge.

Although mandatory ignition interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders could help save additional lives, the law may result in unnecessarily harsh penalties for those facing DUI charges. You need a knowledgeable Philadelphia criminal defense attorney who is familiar with DUI and ignition interlock laws. If you’ve been charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania and are seeking representation, call us at (215) 839-9529 today.

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