Politics & Government

Proposed change in DUI law eliminates a reporting rule

TOPEKA — A bill in the House Judiciary Committee could remove the requirement that drunken drivers who are required to get ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles report to the state that they had done so.

Opponents to the proposal say fewer convicted drunken drivers would get the devices installed in their vehicles without the reporting requirement.

The change came in an amendment offered by Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee, when Senate Bill 368 was being debated on the Senate floor.

The House committee will debate the bill next week and the amendment will likely be altered or removed, said Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, committee chairman. Kinzer also sits on the state's DUI Commission, which is in the midst of a comprehensive overhaul of Kansas' drunken-driving laws.

Cook said she was trying to address the problem a constituent had alerted her to. The constituent was required by the court to drive with the ignition interlock device for a year before regaining a driver's license. The problem was the constituent did not have a car.

"I don't want people to drive drunk," she said. "I want our roads to be safe; I just want to find a solution for everybody."

Matt Strausz, director of Smart Start of Kansas and president of the Kansas Ignition Interlock Association, said he frequently gets calls from people saying they don't have a car and wanting to know whether there was a way out of the requirement.

"The initial reaction is, 'How do I get out of doing this?' " he said.

Often those people come back later with a vehicle and get the devices installed, he said. The devices cost $50 to $70 for installation and $65 to $75 a month in fees after that.

The amendment would give everyone who wants to avoid installing the devices a loophole, he said. The interlock devices — which won't start the car if the driver's blood alcohol limit is half the legal limit and which randomly test the driver's levels while the car is moving — are also behavior modification tools, Strausz said.

"It is a way the person can prove they can drive without drinking," he said. "It's a way to earn that trust back."

Currently, drivers who are convicted of a second drunken-driving offense, who refuse a breathalyzer test or who are caught with a .15 blood alcohol level — almost twice the legal limit of .08 — must drive for a year or more with an interlock device, said Marcy Ralston, chief of the state Driver Control Bureau, Division of Motor Vehicles.

Once the devices are installed, the installation company notifies the state and the clock starts running on how long the device must be on the car, Ralston said.

"Your driving privilege is not reinstated until you've kept that interlock for the full period," she said.

On July 1, 2006, the state began requiring the notifications. Before then, the court would order the devices but compliance was low, she said.

In 2006, courts issued 1,441 notices of mandatory interlock restrictions and had 308 notices of instillation, she said. Many drivers would simply drive without the devices and risk getting pulled over.

In 2009, courts issued 6,361 notices and Ralston's office received notification of 2,420 installations, she said.

Ralston said her office frequently gets calls from people describing situations such as Cook's constituent.

"We hear that almost every day — they don't own a vehicle, he is military and leaving the country, or they are in college and leaving the country," she said.

The problem is there is not a way to confirm the claims' veracity, she said.

During the House committee meeting, Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, urged lawmakers to eliminate the amendment and extend requiring the interlock devices for first-time drunken drivers.

Twelve states, including Nebraska and Colorado, have laws requiring or encouraging interlock devices for first-time drunken-driving convictions, she said in written testimony.

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, who chairs the DUI Commission, said he had hoped to avoid making major changes to the state's drunken-driving laws this year. The commission will come out with a comprehensive overhaul of the state's laws for next session, he said.

House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, said he thought the idea should be removed from the bill and sent to the DUI Commission for study.

"There are a few... people without a vehicle, but they are very few," Ward said "We don't want to throw the baby and the bathwater out."