BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Every day, about 141,000 vehicles pass along I-20/59 in Birmingham. Typically, Alabama ranks higher in traffic fatality rates than other states. According to the most complete recent data from the Alabama Department of Transportation, there were 899 traffic fatalities in 2011.
Two-hundred twenty of those involved a driver who was impaired by alcohol, almost 7,000 separate incidents of driving under influence were reported.
That’s the same year our state enacted an ignition interlock law where by convicted repeat and first time offenders with a blood alcohol level of .15 or more are required, by law, to install the interlock, or breath alcohol recognition device on their vehicles.
Now, three years later there’s a move to make the law even more strict. This new legislation under consideration really amounts to a zero tolerance policy. It used to be that first time DUI offenders got their licenses suspended for 90 days. Now anyone convicted of a DUI has a choice, lose your license or get a breathalyzer installed in your car.
“As a doctor I see many drunk driving related crashes,” says Children’s of Alabama Physician Matthew Kreth. “I see a lot of deaths by people that didn’t mean to do it, just had one too many at a bar.”
And the Doctor is like many people gathered in the bars in Five Points, happy to have a cold drink. Only tonight his drink of choice is water. He’s on call.
“When medical providers get a DUI, they end up actually losing their medical license,” says Kreth. “It’s a lot more severe than just a three month suspension of your drivers license.”
That’s why he supports the move to increase Alabama’s DUI laws to make anyone convicted of a blood alcohol level over a .08 have the option of a license suspension or be forced to drive with an interlock system for twenty four months.
“Thats two years of behavior reinforcement,” says Kreth. “The longer you end up doing something. The more likely you are to stick with that pattern and habit.”
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, states that have interlock laws have seen their incidences of drunken driving decrease by as much as 67 percent. At this time twenty states have laws like this on the books. Alabama would be the 21st.
However, Cody Norton thinks this change to the law may be a bit severe especially for first time offenders.
“I think at a set .08 everybody’s different,” claims Norton. “A glass of wine or a beer is going to affect everyone differently. While someone may blow a .08 and be in no way capable of driving a vehicle, other people may blow a .08 and be perfectly fine.”
At this time the bill has cleared the Alabama State Senate and is making its way through the House.
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