Newtown’s State Rep Mitch Bolinsky remembers vividly the day when one of his high school chums was killed by a drunk driver.
“I won’t call it an accident because it wasn’t an accident,” Rep Bolinsky told The Newtown Bee as he joined Governor Dannel Malloy state lawmakers and representatives of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) for a commemorative bill signing in Fairfield August 11.
“He wasn’t even driving a motor vehicle at the time – he was just walking home from school when a drunk driver pinned him up against a telephone pole,” he recalled, “so at the ripe old age of 15, I lost a friend to a drunk driver. Ever since, I’ve taken this issue very seriously.”
The legislation that drew Rep Bolinsky and colleagues Rep Tony Hwang and Senator John McKinney to the signing ceremony makes a number of changes to deter driving under the influence (DUI). The enhanced legislation strengthens the state’s ignition interlock requirements by authorizing the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to administratively require the devices be installed on cars of first-time DUI offenders.
“This will provide Connecticut residents one of the toughest (sets of) laws in the country related to DUI penalties,” Rep Bolinsky explained. “It simply makes the ignition interlock device mandatory to have a license privilege restored after a first-time DUI offense.”
The local lawmaker sees this new enhancement to an already strict set of statutes.
“With this piece of legislation, we’re attempting to eliminate repeat offenses. The only thing more dangerous than a drunk driver is a repeat offending drunk driver,” he added.
Senator McKinney took a break from campaigning a day ahead of the state’s GOP primary to attend the bill signing in his hometown, saying he was proud of the bipartisan effort that brought the new bill to unanimous approval in both the house and senate.
“We’re trying to make our roads safer while educating our residents about the dangers of drinking and driving,” Sen McKinney said. “That should not be part of any partisan politics. The governor’s leadership along with the Democratic and Republican leadership in the legislature got us to this point. Now we are better able to protect citizens by making sure people who have been convicted of driving under the influence have to have these ignition interlock devices.”
Sen McKinney said the devices are as much to protect the offender, as well as everyone else on the road.
“It’s a tragedy anytime someone is injured or killed by a drunk driver, because these are preventable deaths,” he said. “I hope what we are seeing is not an end to the progress.”
Following a question from The Bee to Governor Malloy about what the future may hold regarding DUI prevention technology, MADD Executive Director Janice Margolis explained that domestic and foreign auto makers were close to including interlock technology in the vehicles being designed for near future production.
“That way anybody, even somebody who may go out to dinner and have a glass of wine or beer, can check themselves before they drive to be sure they are safe to do so, and not violating the law,” Sen McKinney added.
Education And Deterrents
Rep Tony Hwang, who is running for Sen McKinney’s vacated seat in November, said he hopes the threat of having an ignition kill device in cars – even for first-time offenders – will be a strong deterrent to drunk driving.
“The true tragedy of drunk driving is that lives are so often altered,” Rep Hwang said. “Not only do we feel sadness about the lives lost because of drunk driving, we also think of those loved ones who continue on after the tragedy.”
Rep Hwang referred to Skip and Colleen Church who came to the bill signing not only as representatives of MADD, but also as parents who lost their son who they said made the unfortunate decision to get into a car being operated by an impaired friend.
“It was great to see the young people who were part of this ceremony,” Rep Hwang said. “We need to change the culture, to get to our kids and make them understand that drinking and driving has significant consequences, consequences beyond their comprehension.”
During brief remarks Governor Malloy said the new ignition interlock requirement is one of several more stringent penalties and measures Connecticut is implementing to combat and reduce irresponsible behaviors – like impaired, distracted and reckless driving.
“With the passage of this law, we have taken an important step towards protecting drivers, passengers and pedestrians alike. I want to give a special thanks to our partners in this effort, (including) the MADD organization and the law enforcement community. Together, we are making Connecticut’s roads safer for all who use them.”
Specifically, the law:
*Reduces the license suspension period for all administrative per se violations to 45 days, but imposes ignition interlock requirements after the suspension ends;
*Eliminates the 90-day waiting period for a special operator's permit for a first administrative per se violation for refusing to submit to a blood alcohol content (BAC) test;
*Changes the required license suspension period for someone who fails to use an IID as required;
*Allows the DMV commissioner to impose IID requirements on Connecticut residents following an out-of-state DUI conviction that occurs within 10 years of a previous DUI conviction in Connecticut or another state; and
*Decreases, in some cases, the suspension period for drivers under age 21 who are convicted of DUI for the second time.
How It Works
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 the vehicle.
If they have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start. Interlocking devices have been shown to deter drinking and driving and DUI offenders using interlocks have acknowledged that the devices have changed their behavior.
“MADD CT is very pleased to join 24 other states to sign into law an all offender ignition interlock device statue with Governor Malloy and LT Governor Wyman,” said Ms Margolis. “Research from the CDC indicates that first time offenders have driven drunk at least 80 times before they are arrested. Ignition Interlock Devices are effective in reducing repeat drunk driving offenses by 67 percent. It is expected that the CT law, which goes into effect July 2015, will saves lives in our state.”
“Preventing operators from Driving Under the Influence, through education, enforcement and supporting effective legislation, remains a high priority for the Connecticut Police Chief's Association and all Law Enforcement Officers throughout Connecticut,” said Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara.
“This law will make our roads safer by significantly reducing DUI offenders, from repeating their reckless unlawful behavior,” Chief MacNamara added. “I would like to thank the Governor, the legislature, and all others whose efforts made this law happen. I also want to acknowledge all our State and Municipal Law Enforcement Officers who continue in their efforts to make our roads safer.”
DMV Commissioner Melody A. Currey said the new measures will place additional requirements on those who choose to make the reckless and careless decision to drive under the influence, and ultimately will help make our roads safer.
The law, Public Act 14-228, will go into effect on July 1, 2015.