The paint is not dry on Ohio’s repeat offender law, but the Ohio General Assembly is now looking at requiring ignition interlocks for limited driving privileges for first offenders. While it will be September before the first repeat offenders will get interlocks because of the 2008 law (these offenders are serving their 1 year “hard-time” i.e. period of no driving privileges), the Ohio House of Representatives is considering House Bill 78 as you read this. In addition to the interlock requirement for these first time offenders, HB 78 ups the ante by requiring a continuous alcohol monitoring bracelet for those who try to get around the interlock.
In 2008 and 2009 Ohio did a 180 degree turn on ignition interlocks. For many years Ohio was the sleepy backwater on this issue, having, in spite of Ohio’s population, less than a thousand offenders using the device within a few jurisdictions. But then, as is all too often is the case, tragedy changed that. On December 30, 2007 a drunk driver with a BAC of .254, driving the wrong way on I-280 near Toledo, crashed into a minivan carrying eight persons from two families from Michigan and Maryland . . . leaving 5 persons dead and several critically injured. Responding to huge nationwide media coverage and outrage from their constituents, the Ohio General Assembly responded by resuscitating a 2007 OVI bill (SB 17) that languished during that session and moved it quickly to the Governor’s desk. Ohio’s Governor wasted no time in signing the bill giving Ohio, for the first time, a statewide interlock program for repeat offenders.
With House Bill 78, Ohio is now casting in its lot on the issue of first time OVI offenders—joining many other states in this new focus of ignition interlock usage. But unlike repeat offender interlock legislation, first time offender proposals come with powerful, well-heeled opponents. Hopefully it won’t take another tragedy to get this bill to the Governor’s desk.