When “Laura’s Law” was signed by Governor Bev Perdue in June, North Carolina became the 8th state in the last year to pass progressive DUI legislation that is substantially shifting the focus of DUI laws from penalizing cars to required—and enforced—sobriety for the most dangerous drivers on the road.
Laura’s Law was named for Laura Fortenberry, a North Carolina teenager killed by a drunk driver who had three prior DUIs.
Seen as a progressive piece of legislation, Laura’s Law represents a shift in North Carolina’s policies—from an emphasis on ignition interlocks for first-time drunk drivers to getting the most dangerous offenders—the repeat, hard-core drunk drivers (HCDD) —sober. And getting them sober long enough to impact their alcohol abuse issues long after they’re monitored by the courts.
North Carolina joins Delaware, Arizona, Tennessee, Colorado, Nebraska, Montana and both North and South Dakota, all of which have passed laws in the last year hitting hard on HCDDs.
A number of other states, including New Mexico, long known as the state on the leading edge of interlock laws and policies, introduced sobriety bills that have been tabled until upcoming congressional sessions.
According to The Century Council, 98% of HCDDs have a personal history of alcohol abuse and account for 77% of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. They are defined as offenders who have had repeat DUI arrests in the last 3 years, are arrested with a high BAC (exceeding .015, nearly twice the legal limit) and comprise 40% of all DUI convictions (whether sentenced to jail or community supervision) each year.
“Hard Core Drunk Drivers are responsible for the vast majority of DUI fatalities every year, and every one of them is in a revolving door of drinking and re-offending,” says Mike Iiams, chairman and CEO of Alcohol Monitoring Systems, a technology company that is the largest provider of 24/7 alcohol monitoring bracelets to DUI programs in 48 states. According to Iiams, AMS, which manufactures and markets SCRAMx, is seeing an upswing in demand for their technology as a result of requirements for 24/7 monitoring (known as Continuous Alcohol Monitoring or CAM) to enforce the newly mandated sobriety requirements.
According to AMS, 24/7 monitoring with alcohol anklets isn’t a replacement for interlock technology, but rather should be used in tandem. “There is no magic bullet,” says Iiams. “Courts need a number of tools in the toolbox. But shifting the emphasis from punishment and sanctions to sobriety monitoring—and tough sanctions for violations—has proven effective with drug offenders for 30 years. The availability of 24/7 alcohol monitoring now makes that a reality for alcohol offenders,” says Iiams.
CAM technology first became available to the corrections system in April 2004. To-date SCRAMx has monitored over 190,000 offenders in 48 states.
Industry estimates put the number of currently installed ignition interlock systems at 212,000, nearly double the number found on cars just 6 years ago.
According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), 71% of offenders with interlocks “blow fails” while the interlocks are installed on their cars, meaning they attempt to start their vehicles while they’re intoxicated.
According to Iiams, that underscores two key issues: The incredible importance of interlock systems in keeping people from driving drunk right at the point of decision, and the fact that 71% of these offenders have what could probably be defined as alcohol addiction or abuse issues.
“Even though they know the technology is specifically monitoring their behavior, nearly three-quarters of them try to start the car after drinking,” says Iiams. “And changing that behavior long-term is what these new laws are addressing.”
In addition to legislating these policy changes, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana have all implemented statewide 24/7 Sobriety programs, for every DUI offender, regardless of previous offenses.
Footing the bill
According to AMS, while new laws often require new tax dollars to implement them, something in short supply, the vast majority—nearly 80%—of CAM programs are offender-pay, where the drunk drivers pay all or a significant portion of the daily monitoring fee. CAM monitoring averages $10 to $12 a day. “When you look at an average cost of $62 a day to incarcerate someone, even small counties are saving their taxpayers millions each year through community-based monitoring,” says Iiams.
This article originally appeared in 25 DWI Journal: Law & Science 3 (September 2011), pp. 6-7.
Copyright 2011 Whitaker Newsletters Inc.