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Ignition locks are proposed centerpiece of Pawlenty DWI legislation

Gov. Tim Pawlenty delivers his seventh State of the State address on Jan. 15, including a long list of business tax breaks among his proposals. Behind him is House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. (Don Davis/St. Paul Bureau)

Governor Pawlenty announced a proposal Tuesday requiring all convicted DWI offenders to utilize breath activated ignition systems or face a longer period of not driving. The proposal also aims to toughen other aspects of Minnesota DWI laws, including lowering the alcohol concentration limit from 0.20 to 0.15 for enhanced administrative penalties; applying enhanced sanctions to all second-time DWI offenders, regardless of blood alcohol concentration; and reforming drivers license revocation laws.

"Drunk drivers will no longer be able to get behind the wheel of a car without proving their sobriety. If you don't breathe, you won't leave," Governor Pawlenty said.

Under the Governor's proposal:

· DWI offenders will be required to use breath activated ignition systems or face a longer period of not driving;

· The alcohol concentration limit threshold for enhanced administrative sanctions would be lowered from 0.20 to 0.15. If first time offenders choose not to use breath activated ignition systems, they will lose driving privileges for six months to a year depending on their blood alcohol concentration;

· Drivers convicted of a second DWI offense will face enhanced DWI sanctions including not being able to drive for a period of two years unless a breath activated ignition device is installed;

· Offenders with three or more DWI convictions will be required to install breath activated ignition systems for at least three years.

Offenders will pay the full cost of breath activated ignition systems at an average cost of $100 per month. A portion of that payment will be deposited in a special fund to assist those who cannot afford to pay.

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, motorists with just one prior DWI offense account for nearly 20-percent of all alcohol-related deaths each year. Of those first-time offenders, 40-percent are likely to reoffend. In addition, 60-percent of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes had no previous DWI arrests. Alcohol-related crashes result in up to 200 deaths and about 400 life-altering serious injuries annually in Minnesota.

Breath activated ignition systems prevent a vehicle from starting if it detects an alcohol-concentration level of 0.02 or above after the driver blows into a tube. Breath activated ignition systems require rolling re-tests after the initial test, and have features to deter other individuals from starting the vehicle, other than the intended user.

Governor Pawlenty said breath activated ignition systems improve public safety by making it more difficult for DWI offenders to re-offend. Research from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation indicated breath activated ignition systems can reduce repeat DWI offenses by 45-percent to 90-percent.

In Minnesota, nearly 600 DWI offenders have enrolled in breath activated ignition system pilot programs, which began in two counties in July 2007 and expanded statewide in July 2009. The program's goal is to combat the common problem of unlicensed DWI offenders continuing to drive, and to drive impaired, following their arrest, and is set to expire on June 30, 2011.

"With the passage of 0.08 legislation and the felony DWI law, the Governor and the Legislature have made great progress in our on-going battle against drunk driving," Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion said. "We need to employ innovative technology in order to prevent even more crimes and crashes."

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Minnesotans for Safe Driving, as well as the Minnesota Chief's of Police and Sheriff's Associations all support Governor Pawlenty's proposed legislation.

"MADD applauds Governor Pawlenty's initiative to bring significant improvement to Minnesota's DWI laws," MADD's Lynne Goughler said. "MADD will work with the Governor to bring about these life-saving changes."