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Drunk Drivers Beware

National campaign puts extra emphasis on keeping roads safe

August 21, 2010
To those planning a Labor Day party or end-of-summer bash, don’t drink and drive. “With Labor Day fast approaching, we know that many people will be taking one last opportunity to celebrate summer,” PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler said. “If you decide to drink, please designate a sober driver or make other arrangements for a safe ride home.” “Don’t drink and drive,” Warren County Adult Probation Director Carl McKee said Friday. “If you are going to drink and drive, be paranoid, we’re going to be out looking for you.” An effort bringing together PennDOT, the PA DUI Association, and state and local police departments began Friday and will continue through Labor Day. McKee, who is a board member and past president of the PA DUI Association, said the effort includes extra patrols and check-points. The National Impaired Driving Campaign is intended to increase safety on the highways. There were more than 450 alcohol-related crashes and 16 fatalities on the weekends surrounding Labor Day last year, according to PennDOT statistics. “Taking impaired drivers off the road prevents crashes and saves lives,” Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski said. The penalties for DUI are meaningful. “You don’t want to get that arrest,” McKee said. In addition to fines, jail time, and license suspensions, one result for repeat offenders is the ignition interlock device. “One of the things we want the public to be aware of ignition interlock; how you can end up getting it and how you’re going to absolutely hate it,” PennDOT District 1-0 Safety Press Officer Marianne Warner said. “When they’re using that system, we think we’re preventing people from driving (under the influence).” Ignition interlock is equipment that, like a breathalyzer, detects alcohol on breath. To use a vehicle equipped with the device, the driver must blow into it before the car will start and at random times while the vehicle is running. Installing and maintaining the equipment for a year, the usual period it must be in place, costs the person about $1,200 per vehicle. For second-offense DUI convicts, ignition interlock must be installed on every vehicle they own. McKee said the idea was to “arrest that person and the horse they rode in on. It takes the vehicle away from the drinking driver.” But the effects aren’t limited to the offender. “If I’m the person who has the device, everybody that drives my car has to deal with the device,” McKee said. A second DUI sentence including one year of ignition interlock stretches the impact of that offense out to two-and-a-half years. A drivers license suspension, often 18 months in duration, begins once the offender gets out of jail. The ignition interlock must be in place after the suspension ends. “It’s a pretty significant sanction,” McKee said. “Recidivism while they’re on that system is drastically improved,” Warner said of the ignition interlock. Reducing the rate or recidivism is an important goal for the task force. McKee said that one in three people convicted of DUI will accumulate at least one more DUI conviction. He said the ignition interlock sentence could soon apply to first-time DUI offenders.


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