Senate OKs bill on DUI devices

May 7, 2014

Backers stress safety issue

HARTFORD — The Senate sent a bill to the House on Tuesday that proposes to expand the use of ignition interlock devices to prevent drunken driving.

The legislation seeks to build on a 2011 law that requires Connecticut drivers to install and maintain ignition interlocks following a first conviction for DUI.

“I think this will go a long way to making our roads safer,” said Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, R-Canton, a retired police officer.

An ignition interlock is a breath-testing device connected to a motor vehicle’s ignition system. It prevents operation when it detects a predetermined level of alcohol in the driver’s breath.

In Connecticut, if the device detects a blood-alcohol content of 0.025 percent, the vehicle cannot be started. Drivers must also provide breath samples periodically while the vehicle is in use for it to remain running.

Under state law, a driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher is considered intoxicated.

The Senate bill targets drivers who refuse to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test, as well as others whose test results indicate an elevated blood-alcohol content.

“This would expand the opportunity for DUI offenders who may have been not convicted, but merely arrested, to exercise an option to use ignition interlock devices in exchange for a reduction for the period of suspension for their license,” said Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield, Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

For first offenses, current law imposes a six-month suspension on drivers who refuse to be tested.

Additionally, the law provides for a 90-day suspension if the driver’s blood-alcohol content is 0.08 percent, and a 120-day suspension if it is twice the legal limit.

The Senate bill sets a 45-day suspension for all so-called administrative per se suspensions, but it mandates the use of ignition interlock devices after the suspension expires.

“Now, I know that a lot of folks don’t want to show any sympathy for a drunken driver, and I understand that,” said Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, the ranking Senate Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

He said the legislation is geared toward individuals whose arrest for DUI represents an isolated aberration instead of perennial DUI offenders.

Witkos said a notice of suspension or a temporary work permit are pieces of paper that do not necessarily deter people from driving drunk.

“It does nothing to stop an intoxicated person from getting behind the wheel, starting the car and driving off, and potentially killing somebody, if not themselves,” he said.

An ignition interlock device will prevent that from happening, he said.