Alabama’s tougher DUI law requires any first-time or repeat drunken driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 or higher to install an ignition interlock device in the person’s vehicle.
An ignition interlock prevents a driver from starting the vehicle until she has blown into the device and registered a blood-alcohol content of .02 or lower.
“It seems like this is a pretty big change,” Calhoun County Circuit Clerk Ted Hooks said.
First- and second-time offenders, if convicted, must keep the ignition interlock device on their cars for two years and carry licenses that show their driving privileges hinge on whether they have successfully installed devices.
Someone convicted of a third DUI has to use the ignition interlock device for three years. A fourth DUI conviction means the driver must use the ignition interlock system for five years.
“I think this device will help, although I’ve not seen it yet,” Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said. “Anything we can do to prevent an individual from getting behind the wheel drunk is a good thing.”
Like Partridge, other local law enforcers say the law is a strict one that has the potential to curb drunk-driving behavior. But they also question when the law will become enforceable: The ignition interlock devices aren’t yet available in Calhoun County, or in other parts of the state except for Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery.
“And we don’t have anybody locally who can install them yet,” Anniston police Sgt. Jim Studdard said. “It’s a good law, but they have to get the details worked out.”
Some of those details include who will be responsible for installing the devices and tracking them on a regular basis, as the law requires. Officials also wonder about the enforceability of the law’s condition that offenders must pay for the installation of the ignition interlock, which Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson estimates could cost between $500 and $600.
Maintenance fees and fines, as provided by law, will run about $75 per month.
Already it’s difficult, officials said, to ensure DUI offenders pay their court costs. The “pricey” additions associated with the ignition interlock will most likely make it harder, Thompson said.
“I don’t know how the court would handle that,” he said. “Although, I don’t even know where anybody would get one if the court ordered it (at this point).”
Although the law isn’t without its problems, local police generally have high hopes the kinks will be smoothed out.
“I know some other states have implemented it, and it seems to be successful in these other states,” Partridge said. All 50 states have some sort of ignition interlock law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Alabama is now one of 14 other states that require mandatory ignition interlock devices on first convictions.
In 2010, 13,191 drivers in the state were charged with driving under the influence, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.
Last year in Anniston, police charged 213 people with DUI offenses, while Jacksonville officers made 77 DUI arrests. In Oxford, police charged 101 people with DUIs in 2011.
“It’s like any other crime,” Studdard said. “When the penalty outweighs the pleasure of committing it, that’s when the law becomes effective.”
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.