Iowa lawmakers introduced two bills last month that would require motorists who are arrested or convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) to undergo
a twice-daily in-person sobriety testing. Those who pass can go about their day. Those who don’t go straight to jail.
The proposed 24/7 sobriety bills are aimed at repeat offenders, and first-time offenders whose blood alcohol concentration exceeded 0.15 percent at arrest. Offenders would also have to install and use ignition interlock devices in their vehicles and unless they can prove they can’t afford it, pay for the daily monitoring and the fees for the interlock devices.
The 24/7 sobriety program has been embraced in Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming plus all but four counties in South Dakota. Thirteen states are currently conducting pilot programs and four more plan to do so soon.
In South Dakota, officials have noted since the legislated sobriety program began there has been a dramatic decrease in traffic fatalities due to DUI. They claim the recidivism rate for convicted DUI motorists has decreased as well.
Late last year in Iowa, a statewide governor’s task force convened to tackle the issue of impaired driving. The twice-daily in-person breath test was just one of 66 proposals recommended by the group.
If the 24/7 sobriety bills pass in Iowa, judges would have the authority to order an offender to take part as a condition of bond, pretrial release or sentencing. The Board of Parole could also require participation.
Twice before Iowa lawmakers have proposed a similar bill. In 2016, the legislation stalled in the House after Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed the bill.
MADD is pushing for interlock devices on all vehicles driven by DUI offenders and generally oppose any new DUI bill without that measure. “The 24/7 program is more like a treatment of alcoholism,” said J.T. Griffin, MADD’s chief government affairs officer. He added, “Ignition interlocks are geared toward protecting the public, because they keep people from drinking and driving.”
ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis described the 24/7 sobriety program as a “dramatic overreach” that requires full-time sobriety instead of targeting “a lack of sobriety when driving.” The ACLU also opposes motorists participating in the program who had not yet been convicted of a crime. Montana’s Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that requiring 24/7 participation by people charged but not convicted with drunk driving did not violate their rights to due process.
The 2015 Federal Highway Bill provided funding to states for the 24/7 sobriety program giving it parity with ignition interlocks. Incentives for states to work out the 24/7 laws will continue beyond the twenty-two states that have programs or have already shown interest.
Being arrested for drunk driving is a serious offense and can have cataclysmic personal consequences such as jail time, hefty fines, ongoing monitoring, loss of auto insurance and even the loss of a job.
DUI Laws Update: Part 3 will explore the current financial costs of a DUI conviction.