Tenn. may require 1st time DUI offenders get interlock device

Tenn. may require 1st time DUI offenders get interlock device (Image 1)

Tennessee lawmakers and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) want everyone convicted of driving while under the influence to be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicles.

The device requires the driver to blow into it and the device checks for alcohol. If the person has alcohol on their breath the device will not allow the vehicle to start.

In Tennessee, first time offenders with blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15 or more would have to get the device installed.

House Bill 353 and its Senate companion Bill 670 would require the device for first-time offenders convicted of dui with a BAC more than .08, which is the legal limit.

“Hopefully it will save lives in Tennessee,” Senate sponsor Mae Beavers (R) Mt. Juliet said.

According to research from MADD, the interlock devices reduce repeat offenses by 67%.

In Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico and Louisiana the use of the devices for all offenders have cut DUI deaths by 33%.

Millie Webb survived a wreck in 1971 that claimed the life of her young daughter, her nephew and badly burned her and her husband. 

The driver who hit Webb's car was drunk.

Webb is also a former National President of MADD and was instrumental in getting the legal limit for alcohol lowered to .08 from .10.

“Everybody needs to be assured that when they are on the roadway they can be safe,” she said.

The family of Steffanie Leonard also supports the proposed law change.

Leonard was killed on February 22, 2012 when Rebecca Benson hit Leonard's car head on while driving the wrong way on Interstate 65. 

Benson had been out drinking the previous night. When she was arrested Benson told investigators she thought she was in the backseat of a taxi, not driving her car.

Rebekah Leonard, Steffanie's sister and her family have worked to raise awareness about the effects of drinking and driving.

“I definitely think it is a good idea because you have people who say I will never do it again but that one night can come up and you think you are ok but you are really not,” she said. “That for me is the hardest thing, knowing that one decision changed everything forever.”

Benson pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in November. She is serving two years in prison and will then serve eight years probation.

“I just want people to value life so when they get to that point they don't just think about their life it is also their family's life,” she said. “Because not only is it the victim and the survivors it is the person who made that choice. Their family suffers as well.”

The Senate version of the bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House version has not been assigned to a committee yet.

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