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State may expand in-car Breathalyzer demands

Some local officials support idea targeting DUI offenders

DeKALB – More drivers may need to blow into a Breathalyzer to start their cars if Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s proposal becomes law.

White is pushing to expand the state’s Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device program to include more drunken driving offenders and to require jail time for offenders caught driving without the device.

The program requires drivers to take a Breathalyzer test before the vehicle can start. Any person with a blood-alcohol content of 0.025 or greater registers a failed test with the secretary of state’s office and faces an extension of the time the device must be used.

DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said expanded use of the in-vehicle alcohol detection system would benefit everyone. He said the device allows drunken driving offenders to maintain their driving privileges and protects the public by keeping intoxicated drivers off the road.

“People would have the incentive to get them,” Scott said.

“And we wouldn’t need to keep arresting the same people again and again for driving on a suspended license.”

Scott said his office made 158 DUI arrests last year – down 100 from 2011 – but arrests for driving on a suspended or revoked license are at an all-time high. Scott did not know how many of the revoked or suspended license cases were related to DUI offenses.

Although legislation has yet to be drafted, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack believes it will include a breath-alcohol ignition system requirement for those coming off license revocations and seeking driving privileges for work purposes. He also said there could be stiffer penalties for those who opted not to install the system and are caught driving on suspended licenses.

Most drunken driving offenders can choose whether they want to purchase a device under existing laws.

Sycamore lawyer Richard Amato said he has had a number of clients opt for the device in DUI cases. It is a good alternative to losing driving privileges and risking further citations for driving unlicensed, he said.

“Expanding the program should help all groups be satisfied,” Amato said. “Especially in this area where there is very limited public transportation.”

Amato said the devices are affordable because payment plans can be set up, and some financial relief is available if a person fills out an indigency form. The device costs roughly $110 a month and requires a $100 installation fee.

In 2011, there were 3,271 instances statewide where in-vehicle Breathalyzers prevented people from starting and driving a vehicle because they registered a 0.025 or more.

Henry Haupt, spokesman for the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, said White is hoping to add cameras to the devices so a picture is taken every time the driver blows into the machine. Haupt said it would guarantee the offender is not circumventing the system by having someone else use it.

“We believe this is the next frontier in the fight against drunk driving,” Haupt said.

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