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Legislation to close drunk driving loophole nears final vote

By MALLORY MOENCH, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A bill that’s nearing a final vote could close a loophole in Alabama’s law to reduce drunk-driving deaths.

The bill introduced by Republican state Sen. Jim McClendon would require drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device after their first offense. An ignition interlock analyzes a driver’s breath and prevents a car from being started if alcohol is detected.

Alabama passed an ignition interlock bill in 2014 but didn’t require it for offenders who enter pretrial diversion. A similar law in Mississippi requires the device on the first offense. That state stopped more than double the amount of drunk drivers than Alabama in 2016, according to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization.

Under Alabama’s proposed law, judges could order interlock ignition as a condition for bail. The bill also reduces fines and allows offenders to still drive with an interlock device.

Republican Sen. Paul Bussman sponsored a similar bill to specify the alcohol levels that would trigger the ignition lock. He said drunk-driving crashes are the leading killer on Alabama’s roadways.

“There is no excuse to have any more deaths in the state of Alabama. It’s wrong,” Bussman said at a Wednesday news conference at the statehouse.

Carolyn Tyus, a Montgomery resident whose 21-year-old son was killed in a 2008 drunk-driving crash, shared her story at the news conference.

“I feel that if an ignition interlock had been in place, my child would be here. Even though my child is no longer here, I would like to save other lives,” Tyus said. “For someone else to be saved and not have to go through the tragedy, I want to support that bill.”

McClendon said many drunk drivers are repeat offenders, and making the device mandatory on the first offense would force anyone to think twice about driving drunk.

The bill is up for a final vote in the House of Representatives.

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