A new Pennsylvania law is aimed at making sure first-time drunken drivers don’t have a second offense.
On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 290. With that, it became possible to put ignition interlocks on the vehicles of first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content over 0.10, higher than the legal limit of 0.08.
The law makes it an option, a possibility for someone who hasn’t been caught driving impaired before and doesn’t want to lose driving privileges. The law will go into effect 15 months after being enacted, according to Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan.
It comes as law enforcement officers are facing increased numbers of drunken drivers.
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State police said earlier this month that their driving under the influence arrest numbers in 2015 were up 6.2 percent from 2014, not including the arrests from other police departments.
“One of the main goals of the Pennsylvania State Police is to work diligently to keep Pennsylvania’s roadways safe,” said state police Commissioner Tyree Blocker. “Getting impaired drivers off the roads before they injure themselves or others goes a long way toward achieving that goal.”
The interlocks are a measure that a local family lobbied to see.
Jeff and Cindy Webster, of Bellefonte, lost their daughter Julie to a July 2010 crash. The driver, Shawn Meter, was on accelerated rehabilitative disposition for his first DUI offense when he caused the early morning Pleasant Gap collision.
Meter’s blood alcohol was actually higher than his first offense. It jumped from 0.136 in his 2009 arrest to 0.209 the night Julie Webster died. Jeff Webster has maintained that a law like SB 290 could have saved his daughter’s life.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving agrees.
“The bill ... is a great step in MADD meeting the mission to end drunk driving. Between Oct. 1, 2003, and Dec. 1, 2015, ignition interlocks prevented more than 78,000 instances of drunken driving here in Pennsylvania,” said Pennsylvania program manager Malcolm Friend. “Through this new law, imagine how many more lives will be saved, how many injuries will be prevented here in Pennsylvania moving forward.”
Pennsylvania is the 48th state to pass such a law. Only Massachusetts and Idaho do not have similar legislation, according to MADD.
There is a growing problem, however, that interlocks will not address.
“(State police) stats show that DUI arrests have unfortunately increased but notably, drug DUI arrests overall have increased a surprising 40 percent,” said Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.
She said that’s not just a statewide statistic. The numbers are rising on that kind of DUI arrest in Centre County, too.
“The increased detection of these crimes is in part due to the advanced training and use of drug detection officers who come to scenes and can detect dangerous drug use of drivers,” Parks Miller said. “This is a very important tool because this pointed detection technique saves lives. People deserve to be on safe roads.”
State police say more than 4,000 DUI arrests in 2015 were drug-related, up 43 percent from the year before.
State police alone responded to 4,492 DUI-related crashes in 2015.