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Knox authors DUI bill
Would allow ignition interlocks for first-time offenders
interlock 1 jd
Craig Paulson demonstrates the installation of an ignition interlock system Friday at Express Emissions on Buford Hwy. - photo by Jim Dean
A Forsyth County lawmaker wants first-time convicted DUI offenders to blow into a device before they can start their vehicles.

Rep. Tom Knox, R-Cumming, on Friday introduced a bill that would make court-ordered installation of ignition interlocks an option for judges in first-time DUI cases.

An ignition interlock prevents a vehicle from starting if the person blowing into the device has alcohol on his or her breath.

They also require random “rolling” breath re-tests while vehicles are in operation to prevent a drunk driver from using a sober friend to start the car for them.

If a driver ignores or flunks a rolling re-test, the car’s headlights flash and the horn blows repeatedly to alert authorities.

Under current Georgia law, anyone convicted of two or more DUIs in five years is required to have an ignition interlock device installed for at least six months.

Offenders are charged about $60 a month for the cost of the device.

The law also gives judges the options of requiring the devices in other cases, but interlock devices aren’t specifically mentioned in the language of the DUI statute for first offenses.

Knox, a criminal defense lawyer, said interlock devices are proven to reduce repeat offenses, and cites studies that estimate most first-time DUI offenders have driven drunk an average of 80 times before they’re caught for the first time.

“There is a reduction of recidivism,” Knox said. “The main thing is it helps identify those folks who may have a problem and prevent them from being a second or third DUI or a fatality.”

If passed, the law would add the option of ignition interlocks for first-time DUIs in the law books, but still give judges discretion on a case-by-case basis as to whether they should be required, Knox said.

“We think that it’s important for the legislature to have it in the law, that it is at least one of those things that a judge has to consider,” Knox said.

Jason Anavitarte, public policy liaison of Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Georgia, said MADD believes adding interlocks as an option for first offenders could reduce DUI-related deaths.

Similar laws passed in New Mexico and Arizona led to drunk driving fatality reductions of more than 30 percent, he said.

It’s estimated that between 1998 and 2008, the 4,482 drunk driving deaths in Georgia cost the state between $5 billion and $16 billion, Anavitarte said.

He said the law would not be an unfunded mandate, with offenders required to pay the cost of the devices.

“The offenders should pay,” Anavitarte said. “I don’t think the offenders pay enough as it relates to issues like this.”

Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stan Gunter, whose office prosecutes DUIs in White, Lumpkin, Towns and Union counties, said the bill “sounds like a good idea.”

Gunter said lawmakers are always looking to toughen Georgia’s DUI laws.

“There’s legislation introduced every year to strengthen them,” Gunter said.

He said he was in favor of toughening DUI laws “because it’s a serious problem.”

David Contreras, vice president of operations of Guardian Interlock, said throughout the state there are only about 2,400 ignition interlock systems on the road at any given time.

The interlock industry estimates that’s only about 10 percent of eligible repeat drunk drivers on Georgia roads.

“We provide a technological solution to a social problem,” Contreras said. “We’re actually taking away the weapon that can be used.

“Yes, we have a business interest in it, but it’s just the right thing to do.”