By Tamas Mondovics
News of traffic fatalities involving wrong way drivers, including the one that took the life of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy John R. Kotfila Jr., of Valrico, is making headlines. According to the Sheriff’s Office backed by local and national data, a majority of wrong way traffic crashes are caused by drunk drivers, as was the case of Deputy Kotfilla, whose watch ended last month when he was killed by a wrong-way drunk driver with a .27 blood alcohol content (BAC) on the Crosstown Expressway.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), one of the most influential non-profit organizations in America, is clear on its view of such violent crimes and the organization’s commitment to “end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking.”
True to its mission, MADD is seeking support for a recent legislative amendment to require ignition interlocks for all first-time DUI offenders. An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a cell phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A convicted drunk driver must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. To date, 1.77 million drunk driving attempts were prevented by this device in the United States.
According to MADD’s National Director of State Government Affairs Frank Harris, currently 26 states require interlocks for all offenders with a BAC of .08 or greater, not including Florida. In Florida interlocks are required for repeat and first-time offenders with a BAC of .15, resulting the halting of 49,126 attempts to drive drunk (.08 BAC or more) and 632,460 attempts to start a vehicle with a .025 BAC.
“License suspension is not enough as they are often ignored,” Harris said, referring to a recent letter by Colleen Sheehey-Church, MADD National President, to lawmakers.
Aside the BAC criteria, under current law offenders must also wait until conviction before using an ignition interlock—and in many cases long after conviction.
“The sooner an interlock is installed after a drunk driving offense the more effective it is,” Harris said. “Florida’s ignition interlock law can be strengthened by removing the long wait between an arrest and use of these devices.” The proposed amendment from MADD would also allow the option of interlock prior to conviction.
MADD urges residents to let their legislators know that they want this law passed. Visit www.madd.org/interlock.