We Should Applaud Kentucky Legislators for Working to Keep Our Roads Safe
By David Kelly
Everyone was stunned earlier this year after a 4-year-old boy was killed outside a University of Kentucky football game. Unfortunately, this tragedy served as a reminder that drunk driving continues to remain a serious problem throughout the country and Kentucky isn’t immune.
That’s why a bluegrass coalition came together to raise awareness and do something to help take impaired drivers off the road. Together with Lyft, we provided discounts for 675 sober rides in over fourteen hours to help fans safely celebrate the Kentucky versus Georgia football game.
But there is more to be done and we can start by supporting current efforts in the Kentucky legislature to improve state law that requires the use of ignition interlock devices. An ignition interlock is a breathalyzer that is installed in vehicles for those convicted of drunk driving. If the device detects alcohol, then the car won’t start.
Ignition interlocks are the only proven technology that separates drinking from driving and research shows they are more effective than license suspension.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says that between 50 and 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license. Last year, AAA reported that people driving on a suspended license were three times more likely to be impaired according to observations of officers involved in these traffic stops. Those with a revoked license were four times more likely to be impaired.
Contrast that with a study earlier this year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that shows states with all-offender laws are associated with a 16% decrease in fatal crashes caused by impaired drivers with a BAC of .08 or above. The research shows ignition interlock laws serve as a prevention of fatal alcohol-related crashes and are particularly effective in preventing these crashes with drivers who have a history of DWI.
Kentucky currently requires the use of ignition interlock devices for repeat offenders, those who refused to take a breath test and for first-time offenders who are arrested with a BAC of .15 or higher. These devices are installed at the judge’s discretion at the time of sentencing.
But the renewed focus on ignition interlock devices in Kentucky comes at a time when the data tells us we could be doing more. Last year, across the Bluegrass State, there were 24,357 drunk driving arrests. Of those arrests, only 834 ignition interlock devices were installed, giving Kentucky one of the lowest compliance rates in the country. MADD says the good news is that these devices stopped 1,496 attempts to drive drunk.
So what can Kentucky do to make its roads safer from drunk driving? A good start would be an all-offender bill that requires everyone, including first-time offenders, to be required to install an ignition interlock with a DUI arrest at .08 or higher. Kentucky can also work to make sure legislation has compliance-based removal requirements. This would require those who are using an interlock device to demonstrate a pattern of sober driving over a period of time in order to have the device removed. This has proven to be one of the most effective program features in other states.
We have to be realistic. For drunk driving offenders, life will still go on. They’ll need to get to work, they’ll need to go to school, and they’ll need to carry on with everyday activities like going to the grocery store or taking their kids to activities. Ignition interlocks play a role in allowing the offender to drive on a conditional basis while still being a productive member of society. But most importantly they’ll be operating their vehicle safely and with a sober mind.
We should be grateful for Kentucky officials willing to tackle this tough issue with an open mind. It will only make the roads safer and can hopefully prevent senseless tragedies like the one this past fall.
David Kelly is the former Acting Administrator for the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) and currently serves as the Executive Director of the Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers.