MONTGOMERY, Ala (WHNT) — A bill making its way through the statehouse could change how Alabama deals with drunk drivers.
SB72 passed committee Wednesday and centers on the use of an ignition interlock device, which works like a breathalyzer to prevent a car from starting if the driver is impaired.
Current law requires those charged with drunk driving who are participating in a pretrial diversion program to have the device installed in their vehicle.
That law sunsets in July without lawmakers renewing it. A bill extending the law instead changed in committee this week to end the requirement entirely after July.
Lawmakers who approved the change said judges know best when it comes to these cases, and they shouldn’t be bound by mandate.
“This one allows the judge to have the discretion based on what they see as the merits of each individual case,” Sen. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) said in committee Wednesday.
Retired Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Lang Floyd supports the change. He’s dealt with DUI cases and said a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the best way to handle drunk driving offenses.
“It is always best for judges to have discretion,” Floyd said.
Floyd said considering expanding technology, judges should not be limited to one type of drunk driving prevention device when other options may be available.
“They need to be able to tailor and fit the restrictions that they place on the defendant that meets not only the defendant’s particular circumstances but also gives the best protection for the public,” Floyd said.
But groups working to end drunk driving say this change will lead to more of it.
“We’re definitely disappointed, and myself, my family still lives in Montevallo. I’m a little scared if they repeal this,” said Responsibility.org Vice President for Communications and Branding Sam Nathews.
Nathews urges lawmakers to reconsider and said an interlock device is an effective tool that saves lives.
“The best indicator of someone getting a DUI in the future is that they’ve gotten a DUI in the past, and ignition interlocks right now are the best technology that we have available to law enforcement,” Nathews said.
It should be noted at least one of Responsibility.org’s corporate patrons, Driven by Safety, Inc., produces these devices. But they’re not the only group who’s spoken out about the bill.
In a February letter from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor to legislative leaders ahead of the session, he stated the ALEA supports the extension of the requirement, writing “I firmly believe this will negatively impact public safety” without it.
According to the letter, the ALEA processed nearly 4,289 interlock orders in 2022 — roughly half of which were required as part of a pretrial diversion program.
The legislation now heads to the Senate floor. Lawmakers have nine meeting days left to pass bills.