If a Florida motorist is pulled over for suspected drunk driving and refuses to take a breathalyzer test, they’re subject to a mandatory driver's license suspension for a year.
However, most of those motorists still have access to drive their car – and many people continue to drive.
But under a new proposal, a driver who refuses such a test would be required to install an ignition interlock device at his or her expense on all vehicles they own and operate for one full year – therefore removing the ability to drive with that suspended license. An ignition interlock device is a breath alcohol analyzer connected to a motor vehicle’s ignition, which requires a breath sample to operate the motor vehicle.
State Sen. Nick DiCeglie a Pinellas Republican, is the sponsor of the proposal (SB 296).
Law enforcement officials strongly back the measure.
“This bill builds a roadmap that allows us to find a path to success at reducing impaired drivers,” said Donald Pritchard with the International Union of Police Associations. “According to studies, an impaired driver drives an average of 80 times before their first arrest driving impaired. We also know that drivers in Florida are constantly having their licenses suspended, and there’s no way to prevent a driver from driving on a suspended license.”
Currently, Florida law requires ignition interlocks for repeat DUI offenders. For a first-time DUI conviction, a six-month ignition interlock is required if the driver’s blood alcohol content is 0.15 or above or a minor was in the vehicle at the time of the arrest.
The refusal rate for DUI breath tests in Florida was over 35% in 2022, according to a Senate bill analysis, higher than the national refusal rate of around 24 percent.
Kristen Allen is the Florida executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). She said that ignition interlocks are already working in Florida.
But not everyone is in support of the proposal.
“Why are we treating the refusals different in mandating these costly interlocks based only on the accusation before it gets reviewed?” asked Aaron Wayt, the legislative committee chair with the Florida Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Wayt also referred to mandating the costs of these interlocking devices. He noted that when an individual is currently ordered to install an ignition interlock device on his or her car after being convicted of a DUI, there is “a set-off” for court costs in Florida. “When we’re doing this pre-conviction, there is no ability to set off the costs,” he said. “And so when someone is forced with the choice of paying for the device or reinstating their license to pay their light bill, they’re probably going to choose their lights.”
Wayt also raised questions regarding the accuracy and reliability of one of the breathalyzer machines used in Florida called the Intoxilyzer 8000, which he said was purchased by the state in 2006. He said that he had while recently researching the machine while working on a court case in Tallahassee, learned of accuracy problems with the machine, which led to the case being dismissed before going to trial.
“We believe the solutions to a higher number of refusals in the state of Florida would be to strengthen trust by getting newer machines and adding transparency to the process,” he said.
The bill also would reduce the wait time required for failure to submit to lawful testing for a person to apply for a restricted license from 90 days to 30 days following the date of the suspension of the driver’s license.
This is not the first time such a proposal has come up in the Legislature. Similar efforts going back to 2017 have been introduced without a law coming out of the proposals. A House version of the bill (HB 197) has passed through two committees so far.
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