We see victims in our office almost every day. They are the families who are grieving a life cut short. They are the people adjusting to life with a serious injury and losing sleep because they relive one moment over and over when they close their eyes. Our firm is dedicated to helping accident victims, including serving as a law firm for Panama City DUI victims. They ask us to help them recover the monetary compensation they are due, funds that they desperately need to help them move forward. They also ask us how they can make sure that no one else faces the same battle, a fight to recover after being the innocent victim of a drunk driver. We are proud to do both, a commitment that includes considering the use of ignition interlock devices.
WJHG reports that a full quarter of the 53,000 drivers charged with driving under the influence were facing a second offense. This is a disturbing statistic that speaks to issues with both the offenders themselves and the system as a whole. Connie Russell, a mother who lost her son to a drunk driver in late 2006, is one of many pushing for effective reform. She is asking the state legislature to mandate that every person convicted of a DUI be required to use an ignition interlock device.
What is an ignition interlock? It is a breathalyzer that is installed in a car and attached to the engine. In order to start the vehicle, a driver must breathe into the device and pass the sobriety test. The device will also require occasional breath tests throughout a trip, preventing a driver from simply having someone else start the car. The interlock device keeps a record of the breath samples, and drivers face additional legal consequences for failing readings.
Currently, the devices are usually only required following a second or subsequent offense, and only required for a first DUI conviction if the driver's BAC is 0.15 or higher or if a minor was in the car at the time of the offense (See Florida Statutes 316.193 and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' Ignition Interlock page). In addition to expanding to cover first-time offenders, the proposal sponsored by State Sen. Dorothy Huskill would also force some offenders to keep the devices on their vehicles for a longer period than currently required under the statute.
Drivers who are required to install an interlock device on their vehicles are responsible for the cost of the device. Currently, an interlock unit costs $72.50 per month. Doug Manheimer, a representative for a company that leases many of Florida's interlock units, expressed concerns about this cost during a recent legislative hearing. He suggested there may be a tipping point at which the cost drives people to "drop out of the system," opting to drive without a license or insurance rather than pay the interlock fee. Connie Russell responded to this concern in her own testimony before the legislature, by comparing the cost of an interlock unit to the cost to parents like herself who lose a child to a drunk driver.
Florida lawmakers did not vote on the interlock proposal, and they have not scheduled any future discussion on the bill. This move puzzled the bill's sponsor and disappoints our legal team. Interlock devices are not a perfect answer, and figuring out the best way to use the devices may not be easy, but simply avoiding the issue is irresponsible. We hope that the legislature will revisit the interlock issue and make preventing repeat DUIs a priority.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a drunk driving crash in Northwest Florida, please call our Panama City DUI accident lawyer. Attorney Pittman has served the region for more than 25 years, representing victims in personal injury and wrongful death matters while helping educate community members about legal and safety issues.