The Massachusetts Legislature is considering requiring first time offenders to have the ignition interlock imposed if convicted of a first time OUI offense. All states, except Massachusetts, have laws that may require first-time drunk driving offenders to install “ignition interlock devices” in their vehicles. This device is like a mini-breathalyzer that the driver must blow into before driving the vehicle. If there are measurable amounts of alcohol in the driver’s breath, the vehicle will not start. Not all states mandate the devices in all circumstances, for example the devices are mandatory in some states if a first-time offender registers an extremely high blood alcohol content. It is already mandatory for Massachusetts repeat drunk driving offenders with hardship licenses to have the device installed in any vehicle the offender drives, but Massachusetts is the only state where this remedy cannot be ordered for first-time offenders, regardless of the blood alcohol level associated with the offense.
There are currently several different pieces of proposed legislation that, if passed, would mandate ignition interlock devices for certain first-time drunk driving offenders. Gov. Baker’s proposed bill (S.7) would require ignition interlock devices as a condition of receiving a hardship license, for the duration of the hardship license. Anyone, including first-time offenders, that does not receive a hardship license would still be required to use an interlock ignition device for the first six months after their license is reinstated. It also establishes clear penalties for anyone who has an interlock ignition device that tries to drive intoxicated or tampers with the device. Similar bills sponsored by Sen. Tarr (S. 2137) and Rep. Whelan (H. 1580) would mandate interlock ignition devices for all first-time offenders once their licenses are reinstated. The Whelan bill would reduce the term of license suspension for first-time offenders if the offender installs the ignition interlock device. The bills have all been referred to the Joint Committee for Transportation.
Reforms to the ignition interlock laws were previously proposed in the Massachusetts legislature at least three times, but failed to pass. Now that Massachusetts is the only state that does not allow for any first-time offender to be ordered to use ignition interlock devices, there is increased pressure on lawmakers to pass this legislation. The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and AAA all support these bills, citing a Centers for Disease Control report that the use of ignition interlock devices reduces repeat offenses by 67 percent, therefore reducing the number of drunk driving deaths. MADD claims that ignition interlock devices have prevented three million drunk drivers from driving since 2006. Proponents also believe that these reforms offer a fair balance between the offenders need to drive and the public safety risks from drunk drivers.