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Ignition lock laws target drunk drivers

Associated Press / January 3, 2009
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CHICAGO - Motorists convicted of driving drunk will have to install breath-monitoring devices in their cars under new laws that took effect in six states this week.

The ignition interlocks prevent engines from starting until drivers blow into the alcohol detectors to prove they're sober.

On Thursday, Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, and Washington state began requiring the devices for all motorists convicted of first-time drunken driving. South Carolina began requiring them for repeat offenders.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been conducting a nationwide campaign to mandate ignition locks for anyone convicted of drunken driving, asserting that doing so would save thousands of lives. But critics, including the American Beverage Institute, say interlocks could lead to excessive restrictions on alcohol.

Users must pay for the fist-sized devices, which in Illinois cost about $80 to install on dashboards and $80 a month to rent; there's also a $30 monthly state fee. And they require periodic retesting while the car is running.

Other states with similar laws include New Mexico, Arizona, and Louisiana. Most other states give judges the option of forcing convicted drunk drivers to use the devices. In practice though, they are rarely ordered.

In Illinois, the interlocks are mandated only for the five to 11 months in which licenses are suspended because of a first drunken-driving offense. Drivers can opt not to install them, but then would be banned from driving during the suspension period.

Motorists in Colorado must install the devices or get a longer suspension. The law taking effect in Washington relaxes penalties on drunk drivers, allowing them to avoid mandatory license suspension by getting an interlock.

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