Drunk-Driving Crackdown Passes

Cincinnati Enquirer

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

By Michelle Bollman and Jon Craig

COLUMBUS – State legislators passed a sweeping bill to crack down on drunk driving today, including a requirement to install key-lock devices for repeat offenders.

With Gov. Ted Strickland's expected signature, the new law will make Ohio the seventh state with so-called "interlock" devices.

The $90-per-month ignition-lock requires the driver to blow into a device to detect alcohol. If the interlock system detects alcohol on the driver's breath, it will prevent the car from starting. Drivers face additional charges for trying to bypass the device or use another person's vehicle.

DataCenter: Repeat DUI arrests by county

The multi-faced bill – aimed at reducing the number of repeat drunk drivers:

  • Requires creation in six months of a public online database, called the "habitual OVI offender registry," for people with five or more drunk driving offenses.
  • Hikes license reinstatement fees by $50, from $425 to $475.
  • Fines are hiked by $50, from $325 to $375 for a first offense; from $475 to $525 for a second offense within six years; from $800 to $850 for a third offense in six years. Everything above that is hiked from $1,300 to $1,350.
  • Expands the number of alcohol treatment centers, including those run by the Salvation Army.

Of 250,000 Ohioans with at least one driving under the influence arrest, 44 percent have multiple convictions, state Rep. John White, R-Kettering, told his colleagues on the House floor Tuesday.

Ohio House members approved the drunk driving bill, 87-6.

Senate Bill 17, sponsored by state Sen. Timothy Grendell, R-Chesterland, also requires a blood-alcohol test for anyone with two or more convictions, and allows police to use for force to administer the test.

Many agencies and groups including the Ohio Department of Public Safety and Mothers Against Drunk Driving helped write the bill, White said.

"We have a bill that feels good and sounds good and it does take a step," Doug Scoles, executive director of Ohio MADD, said after passage of the bill.

An amendment by state Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, will require all repeat offenders after two convictions to have a key-locking device installed in their cars.

Scoles said a 2005 New Mexico law, after which Ohio modeled its key-lock plan, has reduced repeat drunk driving offenses by 60 percent and lowered alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 23 percent.

Originally, Seitz wanted the key-lock device to be required for even first-time offenders, but the Ohio House relaxed that requirement to two or more convictions.

"This is the surest way to prevent people from drinking and driving," Seitz said.

A second amendment by former state Sen. Patricia Clancy, R-Colerain Twp., requires the Ohio Department of Public Safety to create a database to track any driver with five or more drunk driving offenses during the past 20 years.

Last year, The Enquirer lost a lawsuit seeking access to a database containing cumulative conviction records of drunk driving offenders after the state argued their personal information was protected by state and federal privacy laws.

An Enquirer analysis last spring found that more than 3,500 licensed drivers had been convicted of drunk driving in Southwest Ohio five or more times. And based on Department of Public Safety figures dating back to 1973, the newspaper found nearly 36,000 drivers with five or more DUI convictions in Ohio.