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Pawlenty signs stronger DWI bill into law

Governor Tim Pawlenty today signed legislation to strengthen sanctions against DWI offenders and require certain offenders to use ignition interlock devices. The legislation becomes effective July 1, 2011, and aims to enhance road safety to prevent alcohol-related crashes which account for one-third of all Minnesota traffic deaths annually. The legislation gives DWI offenders a chance to regain driving privileges by ensuring safe and legal driving through the use of interlocks.

Interlock devices are installed in a vehicle and require a driver to provide a breath sample in order for the vehicle to start. The vehicle will not start if the device detects an alcohol-concentration level of 0.02 or above after the driver blows into its tube. Interlocks require rolling re-tests after the initial test, and have features to deter others from starting the vehicle for the intended user.

"This legislation demonstrates Minnesota is serious about preventing impaired driving and the tragedies that result from the deadly decision to get behind the wheel after drinking too much," Governor Pawlenty said. "Stronger sanctions and employing smarter tools such as interlock devices are necessary to step up the fight against this illegal and dangerous behavior. With this law, if you don't breathe, you don't leave."

Highlights of the legislation include:

• DWI offenders with a 0.16 and above alcohol-concentration level will be required to have ignition interlock devices installed on any vehicle they drive.

• DWI offenders with a 0.16 and above alcohol-concentration level that choose not to use ignition interlocks will not have driving privileges ranging from one year to six years -- depending on offense level. Offenders with three or more DWIs in a 10-year period will be required to use interlocks.

• Interlock users will regain full driving privileges immediately after the offense, ensuring they are driving with a valid license and not a threat on the roadway.

• Interlocks will be used to monitor chronic DWI offenders (three or more DWIs in 10 year period) to verify chemical use.

In the United States, 46 states have implemented interlock requirements for DWI offenders. Research from the leading ignition interlock institution, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, reports interlocks can reduce repeat DWI offenses by 45 percent to 90 percent.

Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Commissioner Michael Campion says the increased sanctions and use of interlocks will help to deter motorists from driving impaired, and therefore reduce alcohol-related fatalities.

"Minnesota cannot continue to allow these preventable deaths and injuries on our roads due to drinking and driving," says Campion. "This law is about saving lives, keeping motorists safe, and sending a message to motorists that impaired driving is a serious crime with serious consequences."

Campion says the benefits of the new legislation will include safer roads and reduced costs through the use of ignition interlock on high-risk drivers. He adds the law creates a method for all offenders to obtain a valid driver's license to address the epidemic of DWI offenders driving without a valid license. Campion says the use of interlocks also encourages behavior modification and rehabilitation, and diminishes the probability and possibility of repeat DWI.

"Minnesota has made progress in limiting alcohol-related traffic deaths in recent years," says Campion, citing enhanced, targeted enforcement and education outreach efforts. "To continue this trend, it's important that legislators and the governor took action to embrace interlock technology to prevent impaired driving crimes."

The interlock legislation is one of many traffic safety legislative pieces in recent years -- felony DWI (2004); 0.08 legal alcohol-concentration limit (2005); ban on cell phone use for new teen drivers (2006); stronger teen graduated driver's licensing laws (2008); ban on texting, emailing and web access (2008); primary seat belt law (2009); and booster seat law requirement for children (2009).

A current Minnesota ignition interlock pilot program began in July 2009 and more than 1,000 DWI offenders have enrolled to regain their driver's licenses sooner and are legally driving with interlocks.