Drunk Drivers Face Tougher Penalties in Colorado

Good news for the safety of motorists as Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado signed two DUI bills into law last week.

In 2006, an estimated 17,602 people died in alcohol-related traffic crashes–an average of one every 30 minutes. These deaths constitute 41 percent of the 42,642 total traffic fatalities. Of these, an estimated 13,470 involved a driver with an illegal BAC (.08 or greater).

House Bill 1194 increases the duration of a drunk driver’s license suspension. First time offenders will lose their licenses for nine months, an increase from the prior three months sentence, with the second offense remaining at a one-year suspension. However, third and subsequent offenses increase from one year to two years.

As an incentive to first time offenders, HB 1194 encourages the installation of alcohol ignition locks in the offender’s car to qualify for a restricted license, which reduces the license suspension down to four months. Colorado drunk driving laws currently require alcohol ignition locks for second or subsequent offenses or a first offense with a blood alcohol content of .17 or higher.

An alcohol ignition interlock is a breath test device linked to a vehicle’s ignition system. When a driver wishes to start his or her vehicle, he or she must first blow into the device. The vehicle will not start unless the driver’s alcohol concentration is below a pre-set blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A data recorder logs the driver’s BAC for each attempt to start the vehicle. Interlocks may be calibrated to have “rolling retests,” which requires a driver to provide breath tests at regular intervals, preventing drivers from asking a sober friend to start the car, drink while driving, or leaving the car idling in a bar parking lot.

After the first month, the driver can request to have the alcohol ignition interlock device installed in their car and if they maintain a clean driving record and not fail any alcohol ignition interlock tests for four months, they would be eligible to have their suspended license reinstated at that time.

HB 1194, also increases the reinstatement fee to $130, up from the previous $60 fee and specifies that a portion of this increased fee be transferred to the first time drunk driving offender account in the highway users tax fund to be used to pay for an ignition interlock device for those who cannot afford it.

Additionally, HB 1194 requires the Department of Transportation to increase the number of high-visibility drunk driving law enforcement episodes as part of their strategic transportation project investment program.

According to Glynn Birch, National President of MADD, “Alcohol ignition interlocks are proven effective and are integral to our vision of eliminating drunk driving. If every state required alcohol ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, we could save more than 4,000 lives now lost in repeat drunk driving crashes annually.”

Up Next: Drunk Drivers Facing Tougher Penalties in Colorado (Part Two: HB 1377 – DUI Evasion Law)