A strict new law requiring first-time DUI offenders to have to pass a breathalyzer test to start their cars cleared a legislative hurdle Wednesday.
Drivers who get a first conviction of driving under the influence would have to blow into a machine before their car would start. The so-called interlock measures a driver’s breath-alcohol content.
The sponsor is Representative Henry Fincher, a Cookeville Democrat. Under his bill, offenders would have to use the device and pay for it, an estimated $40 a month or more.
“This is the toughest interlock bill that’s before the legislature this year. It’ll apply to anyone …convicted of driving drunk, or having a .08 blood alcohol content or higher, or to people who refuse to take the test.”
Fincher’s bill cracks down on first time offenders, because, he says, in the court system almost nobody pleads guilty to second or third-offense DUI. This bill is a model favored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The bill, HB 2917 Fincher/SB 2897 McNally, is here.
It is expected to go to the House Judiciary Committee as early as next week.
Fincher says the bill is strict by design.
“If it’s the first time, you’ll have to have the interlock for a year. There will be significant fees associated with that. If you’re caught driving without an interlock device when you’re required to have one, you’re going to spend a little time in jail, and you’re going to have a $2500 fine.”
Fincher is a Cookeville attorney who now specializes in law dealing with old people. But he worked for years in the criminal courts.
“I am a former criminal defense attorney. I have seen our court system in action. It’s very rare for anyone to plead to a second or third offense DUI. They will plead to first offense, they may serve significant jail time, but they know that the penalties are less. So, by having interlocks [only] available for second and third offense, it’s really the same …really, as a practical matter, not even having interlocks available.”