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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 18, 2008

Ignition-interlock system will help save lives

By Rep. Sharon E. Har

Vehicle ignition interlock systems are not a new highway safety concept. Unfortunately, Hawai'i is one of the five states that has yet to adopt these life-saving devices, which is why it is no surprise that Hawai'i has the highest percentage of alcohol-related fatalities in the U.S.

Due to advances in technology and painstaking trial-and-error in other states, Hawai'i is very fortunate to be in a position to pass legislation and to implement this program so that we can get drunken drivers off our roads and save lives.

In March 2006, the car that I was driving was hit head-on by a drunken driver. By the grace of God and the cars we were driving, I did not sustain any serious injuries.

After further investigation, I discovered that the young man who hit me had been arrested for drunken driving on several other occasions and that his license had been revoked. The fact that he was still driving demonstrates that revocation of licenses is not working to stop drunken driving. Most recently, there have been a multitude of drunken-driving accidents and fatalities in Hawai'i.

As a result of my accident, I spoke with Rep. Joseph Souki, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, about drafting legislation that would get drunken drivers off our roads to accomplish our ultimate goal of saving lives.

Last year, the House Transportation Committee teamed up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to learn more about vehicle ignition interlock devices. Consequently, during the 2007 legislative session, the House Transportation Committee passed House Concurrent Resolution 28 requesting the Hawai'i Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of requiring vehicle ignition interlock devices for convicted drunken driving offenders.

The vehicle ignition interlock is a device that is placed into a car by a certified agent. The interlock device is set to that state's blood-alcohol content limit. If the driver blows into the device and is over the limit, the driver's car will not start. Each time the driver blows into the device, the information is monitored at a central data house and the data is used as part of treatment.

One of our greatest challenges in this legislative session is to dispel the many inaccuracies that have been reported during the early phases of ignition interlock.

The creativity and sophistication that offenders have shown when these programs were first introduced have allowed the interlock ignition industry to develop strategies that make the system accurate and successful. Temperature sensors make certain that fans or other compressed-air devices are not being used to cheat the system. Also, a small camera can be mounted on the steering wheel to match specific breath tests with a picture of the person giving the sample.

Running retests, which randomly call for an additional test while driving, guard against drinking after the initial test. These are just some of the measures in place to safeguard the public and the offender from the hazards of driving intoxicated.

Another important point to consider is the relationship of the system to counseling and therapy. Those in the industry and the behavioral health community agree that this is in no way designed to replace therapy.

Vehicle ignition interlock is an important piece of a greater treatment paradigm. The data collected from repeated tests can be used to establish patterns of use, assure compliance and help condition behaviors over a period of time.

All in all, no system is perfect, and our state will have some challenges in the oversight and implementation of the vehicle ignition interlock. Finding the correct department to administer the program, finding the manpower to sift through the loads of data that this system will generate, and coordinating interisland probation agencies are all challenges that will be discussed this upcoming session. We are determined, however, to get this legislation on the books because it is about saving lives.

State Rep. Sharon E. Har, D-40th (Royal Kunia, Makakilo, Kapolei), wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.