Mothers Against Drunk Driving is objecting to an abstinence-based proposal that would let judges order twice-daily breath tests instead of ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders. But the head of the National Sheriffs' Association says the "24/7 Sobriety" model is a better way of keeping drunken drivers off the road for good.
MADD National Director Jan Withers on Friday asked Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, to reject the plan, which was approved by a House committee last week and is known elsewhere as "24/7 Sobriety."
"MADD believes that amendments allowing for twice a day testing or 24/7 sobriety programs are okay, but these programs should never replace the use of ignition interlock for a convicted drunk driver," Withers wrote.
Instead, MADD wants Florida lawmakers to expand the use of the interlock devices, which keep vehicles from starting if a driver is drunk, to first-time offenders whose blood-alcohol content is above .08. Current state law requires the devices for second- and third-time offenders as well as for those with a blood-alcohol content of .15 or greater.
In a letter to Weatherford, Withers pointed out that 17,224 Florida residents were convicted in 2012 for driving with suspended licenses that were revoked because of previous DUIs, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
"MADD believes Florida needs ... a new approach to handle persons arrested for drunk driving as license suspension alone is no longer practical," Withers wrote. But on Thursday, Sheriff Mike Leidholt of Hughes County, S.D., wrote that he is "wholeheartedly in support" of the proposal (HB 7005), approved last week by the Florida House Economic Affairs Committee. The proposal would allow judges to place drivers with more than one DUI into a 24/7 program instead of or in addition to requiring interlock devices.
Leidholt, who is also president of the National Sheriffs' Association, helped implement one of the nation's first 24/7 sobriety programs, now in use statewide in South Dakota and two other states.
"Of all the wonderful programs that sheriffs are initiating, I have not seen one that is as successful in reducing recidivism, managing corrections populations, and reducing alcohol related crashes as the 24/7 Sobriety Program," Leidholt wrote.
Interlock devices are now in use by more than 10,000 Florida drivers, and the industry generates about $10 million a year.
by The News Service of Florida