Convicted drunken drivers in Minnesota will soon have to prove that they're sober when trying to start their vehicle.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a measure into law Tuesday requiring the use of breath-activated ignition locks, a device that will provide offenders a chance to regain their driving privileges, if they stay sober behind the wheel
In a state that currently records about 30,000 drunken driving citations a year, law enforcement officials are welcoming a new tool aimed at keeping the roads safe.
Pawlenty said 46 states have already found the technology can dramatically reduce cases of driving while intoxicated. The Republican governor cited a study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation that found DWI reductions of 45 percent to 90 percent.
"We have to find better ways to identify, apprehend and take off the road people who drive drunk," Pawlenty said. "And this device, this technology and this legislation will do that."
Under the bill Pawlenty signed into law, all repeat DWI offenders -- and first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level of twice the legal limit or more -- will have to install an ignition interlock device in their car if they want to drive.
They'll need to blow into a mouthpiece and record a sober reading in order to start the car. The car won't start if the reading is 0.02 or higher. If they don't want the device, they can lose their driving privileges for as long as six years.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said offenders must lease the ignition devices for about $100 a month, and install one in every vehicle they intend to drive.
"You know, if these scofflaws are out there and they're driving around and they don't have it and they're on the fourth, fifth DWI, they're going to spend some time in the crossbar motel," Murphy said.
An estimated 25,000 drivers could be eligible to use the technology. State Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said providing a pathway to legal driving will actually save the state money.
"We have an epidemic of folks who are driving with invalid licenses because they want to get to work," she said. "This will allow them not to have to go before courts, and [they] won't be losing their licenses. I believe that will be a savings to the state."
The new law doesn't take effect until July 1, 2011. State officials must still select and certify a vendor that will lease, install and service the interlock devices.