Drunk-driving laws tightened

Include ignition interlocks, increased penalties

Last December the Ohio Legislature passed significant amendments to the state's drunk driving laws. House Bill 388, also known as "Annie's Law," was named after 36-year-old Annie Rooney, an avid bicyclist who was struck and killed by a drunk driver just outside of Chillicothe in 2013. The law took effect in early April.

The bill extends the "lookback" period for drunk driving and drunk driving-related offenses to 10 years. This means that the various penalty enhancements that come with a second, third or fourth drunk driving offense, such as mandatory jail time, higher fines and longer driver's license suspensions, can be applied for multiple offenses that occur within 10 years, rather than six years under the former law.

It also modifies the permissive length of time of a required driver's license suspension for a first, second or third drunk driving offense. A first-time offender's driver's license suspension has been increased to a minimum of one year and can be up to a maximum three years.

Further, a court can suspend a second time offender's driving privileges for up to seven years and a third time offender's for up to 12 years. Additionally, the bill eliminates the requirement that a second-time offender who is granted limited driving privileges must display restricted license plates (the yellow plates with red letters and numbers you may have seen on some vehicles).

However, if a first time offender obtains unlimited driving privileges with an ignition interlock device, the minimum suspension is reduced to six months. This is emblematic of the state's new movement regarding a more widespread deployment of ignition interlock devices (IIDs), which detect a driver's breath alcohol level.

A driver must blow into the IID in order to start the vehicle, as well as being required to pull over to the side of the road to randomly take a retest during various times. As of now, IIDs can only detect alcohol consumption. They do not detect usage of prescription drugs or illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin or marijuana.

IID violations, such as failing a test or driving a vehicle without an IID, can result in a court extending alcohol monitoring period and/or doubling the period of a driver's license suspension. The bill requires that such violations can now apply to first-time offenders, underage offenders and out-of-state offenders, which they formerly did not. To safeguard against equipment malfunctions, a defendant can appeal IID violations to the sentencing court for a hearing.

The bill also requires that all IID manufacturers be certified by the Ohio Department of Public Safety, and that manufacturers shall install and monitor all IIDs it produces and charge a reduced fee for the installation and monitoring of such devices for those offenders who a court determines cannot afford to pay the regular fee. IID manufacturers are also required to monitor and report any violation to both the sentencing court and the Ohio BMV, a significant improvement over the former law, which required court's probation departments to monitor the device.

Lastly, the bill requires that on or before January 1, 2020, in order to be certified in Ohio, an IID manufacturer must have a camera as part of the device. This may prevent the situation in which a sober passenger blows into the device, instead of the defendant.

—Michael E. Cicero