December 21, 2009

As Holidays Approach, Lautenberg and Udall Introduce New Legislation to Fight Drunk Driving

WASHINGTON - Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Tom Udall (D-NM) were joined by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) today to unveil new legislation that would help keep repeat drunk drivers off the road. Under the legislation, states must require the use of ignition interlock technology for all convicted drunk driving offenders, or else lose a portion of their federal transportation funding. The ignition interlock is an electronic breath testing system connected to a vehicle's ignition system that prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver's blood alcohol content exceeds a pre-set limit.

"Far too many people die from alcohol-related auto accidents each year," said Sen. Lautenberg. "This week is an especially dangerous time as drunk driving tragedies spike during the holiday season. Our legislation would help keep roads and communities safe by preventing people with a history of drunk driving from repeating that bad decision. It would prevent thousands of tragic accidents and save countless lives every year."

"New Mexico was the first state to attack the epidemic of drunk driving by implementing an aggressive ignition interlock penalty program for all offenders," said Sen. Tom Udall. "The strategy has helped take drunk drivers off the roads and save lives. I believe enacting it nationwide would have the same positive and resounding effect."

"We know that 50 to 75 percent of drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license because they can" said MADD National Board Member Jan Withers. "With an ignition interlock, DUI offenders can still go to work, school, or anywhere else they need to go. They just can't drive drunk."

A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that re-arrest rates decreased by 73 percent when an ignition interlock device was installed. It also found that drivers with ignition interlock devices have far fewer alcohol-related crashes than those drivers with just a suspended license. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that fatalities dropped by 30 percent for convicted drivers with an ignition interlock.

A 2007 National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found that alcohol-related crashes increase dramatically during the holidays. From 2001 to 2005, about 40 percent of fatalities during the Christmas and New Year's holidays were alcohol-related, as compared to 28 percent of fatalities during the rest of December. Also, alcohol-related crashes cost the American public more than $114.3 billion in 2000, according to a study by the NHTSA.

The Lautenberg/Udall measure mandates states to require an ignition interlock for a minimum of six months for all drunk driving offenders. States that fail to comply with this mandate will face a reduction in federal transportation funding. Ten states currently have laws that require an ignition interlock for all drunk driving offenders: Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nebraska, Washington, and New York.

During his tenure in the Senate, Lautenberg has fought to reduce drunk driving and underage drinking through a series of legislative victories. Senator Lautenberg wrote the law that lowered the legal blood alcohol limit to .08 from .10 in all 50 states. He also authored the law that set a national 21 year old drinking law that has helped save thousands of lives across the country.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) has included language to accomplish this legislation's goal in the transportation reauthorization bill.