Our View: Bill strengthening DUI laws will protect drivers

Drunken driving is a deadly epidemic that takes the lives of more than 10,000 people each year in the U.S.

About one in three traffic deaths in the U.S. involve an impaired driver.

In 2017, there were 24,576 reported cases of DUI in Kentucky, with many resulting in wrecks, injuries and even death. In fact, from 2003 to 2012, 2,041 people were killed in crashes involving a drunken driver in Kentucky.

It’s a problem we should take seriously, and one that is entirely preventable.

That is why we fully support a bill strengthening Kentucky’s DUI laws and aiming to reduce drunken driving that passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday.

Senate Bill 85 enhances legislation that was passed in 2015 establishing Kentucky’s ignition interlock device program, which requires offenders with multiple DUI offenses or those with a first-time offense and a 0.15 blood alcohol concentration or higher to install Breathalyzer devices on their vehicles.

Drivers must blow into the device before starting their vehicle. The device disables the ignition if alcohol is detected.

SB 85 adds a compliance-based component to existing legislation; moves the administration of the program to the Transportation Cabinet, which will add five staff members to assist in administering the program; makes interlock devices available to all DUI offenders; and stiffens penalties for DUI offenders who do not use the devices, according to a news release from the Legislative Research Commission.

The bill will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Supporters of the bill — which include the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving — cite a study from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety that found requiring interlock devices led to a 16-percent decline in fatal crashes due to impaired driving.

“In 2016, 10,497 people died in crashes involving drivers with blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher in the U.S. and such crashes cost society an estimated $125 billion in 2010 alone,” the report states. “Research has shown that interlocks reduce (driving while impaired) recidivism by 64 percent, while fitted on the DWI offender’s vehicle, and so state laws requiring their installation are expected to be more beneficial than those laws simply allowing for it.”

Time and again media, law enforcement and others beg people to make more responsible driving decisions. Campaigns run nearly year-round reminding people to “Drive Sober” and call for a ride.

While those campaigns serve as great reminders to the average person, many others ignore the risks associated with impaired driving and put not only their life on the line but the lives of hundreds of others they encounter on Kentucky’s roadways.

Impaired driving is, simply put, a stupid thing to do.

For the thousands of drivers who ignore these warnings and laws each year — causing injuries, thousands of dollars in damages and taking lives — prevention will come down to mandating responsible driving decisions.

Ignition interlock devices are a key element to that prevention plan and one the state will need to keep revisiting as new technology becomes available and more research proves their effectiveness.

One death related to impaired driving is too many. Strengthening laws related to interlock devices will provide further protection for people on Kentucky’s roadways.

As the House considers this legislation, we are hopeful it will receive unanimous approval, and Kentucky will take another step toward being a safer state.