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Tulare County signs on for California ignition interlock test

Four counties will officially be a part of California’s 5-year test of ignition interlock requirements for first-time DUI offenders.

Tulare County confirmed it will participate along with Sacramento, Los Angeles and Alameda. Assembly Bill 91 approved the measure and was signed on Sunday; it will go into effect July 1, 2010. The bill’s author, Mike Feuer, a democrat from Los Angeles, says Tulare is on the list to keep the areas geographically diverse for the pilot program. 

Tulare was also chosen because of the area’s history with DUI programs. Tulare saw an increase in DUI arrests nearing 20% in 2007. The County is said to have a disproportionate amount of DUI activity for its population, but officials commented this may be due to increased enforcement. 

California currently has the option for judges to mandate an ignition interlock. However, according to statistics, less than 5% ever do. The devices are so rarely used, the legislature felt it couldn’t gather statistics on the effectiveness of their usage unless they became mandatory for a small portion of the population. This new law requires at least 5 months with a device for a first-time offender, and it mandates longer periods for repeat offenders.

The use of the device for first-time users is not unheard of, but many still opposed it. The American Beverage Institute was behind a push to reserve the requirement to only those people who are repeat offenders or have a very high blood-alcohol content. The group does not represent liquor companies. It is a trade group for restaurants and bars. 

Estimates for the cost to have a device in California are $100 for the installation plus $50 a month for maintenance. The state will not assume any of this expense; the offender must pay the fees himself or herself. 

Of the eleven states mandating the use of interlock devices, only a few do help pay the cost. New Mexico is seen as the best example of a successful program. There, a state fund supported by ticket and court fees partially subsidizes the cost of a device. The law has been in affect since 2005. Experts believe DUI fatalities in New Mexico have been reduced as a result of the policy. However, New Mexico has introduced a number of tough enforcement laws that may taint these statistics.

The legislature must hear about results by 2015 to determine whether the program will go statewide in California.


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