RTA urges Texas to reject roadblocks and Low-BAC

WASHINGTON - Wednesday the American Beverage Institute (ABI) denounced ignition interlock bills SB170, HB379, and HB1110 and sobriety checkpoint bills SB298 and HB169, which are before the Texas legislature. The interlock bills would mandate the installation of breathalyzers in the cars of low-BAC (blood alcohol concentration), first-time offenders.

"By mandating breathalyzers for first time offenders regardless of their BAC level, and calling for sobriety checkpoints, these proposals ignore the root cause of today's drunk driving problem-hard core alcohol abusers," said ABI spokeswoman Sarah Longwell.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that the average BAC of a drunk driver in a fatal car crash is 0.18% -- twice the legal limit. Additionally, a NHTSA administrator has said that today's problem is "by far and away" made up of "those who have alcohol use disorders." Former MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) president Katherine Prescott has made similar statements, saying that the drunk driving problem has been reduced to "a hard core of alcoholics who do not respond to public appeal."

But the interlock bills pending in Texas fail to target this dangerous population and instead will force first-time DUI offenders, even those just one sip over the legal limit, to install breathalyzers in their cars. In fact, former MADD chapter Executive Director, Charles V. Peña, has said "a first time offender - at the legal limit of .08 BAC should not automatically receive the same punishment as someone driving at more than twice that and with prior convictions."

Low-BAC, first-offender bills like these are part of a little-known movement that seeks to mandate ignition interlock technology in all cars as standard equipment.

"With Texas's drunk driving limit set at .08 BAC, this proposal would mandate that drivers install a breathalyzer in their car for behavior that, according to numerous studies, impairs them less than driving while talking on a hands-free cell phone," said Longwell. "A 120 pound woman can reach the .08 BAC level by having two glasses of wine in two hours. Should she receive the same punishment as someone with a .18 BAC level or multiple offenses?"

The proposal for checkpoints in Texas also fails to target the dangerous drunk driver population and instead will inconvenience all driving adults.

In addition to being ineffective (often catching 0 drunk drivers, while costing taxpayers over $10,000), sobriety checkpoints target moderate, responsible drinkers. Instead of roadblocks, Texas currently uses roving patrols, during which police patrol the streets and highways looking for erratic drivers. These roving patrols are up to 10 times more successful than checkpoints.

"Because they are highly visible by design and publicized in advance, roadblocks are all too easily avoided by the chronic alcohol abusers who comprise the core of today's drunk driving problem," Longwell continued. "That leaves adults who enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a ball game, or a champagne toast at a wedding to be harassed at checkpoints. Texas is right to keep checkpoints out of the state."