Statement on California Legislation to Curb Drunk Driving

  • April 3, 2019
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

Statement of Peter Kurdock, General Counsel, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety In Support of Lifesaving California Legislation — SB 545 and AB 1713 Will Significantly Curb Drunk Driving                           

Today, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) is pleased to join Senator Jerry Hill (CA-D-13) and Assembly Member Autumn Burke (CA-D-62) to support enactment of Senate Bill (SB) 545 which would require all drunk driving offenders to use an ignition interlock device (IID) and Assembly Bill (AB) 1713 to lower the limit of blood alcohol content (BAC) while driving from .08 to .05 percent.  We urge the California Legislature to take swift action on these commonsense measures to curb alcohol impaired driving and the resulting preventable crashes, fatalities and injuries.

Drunk driving is a deadly and costly threat to California families.  In 2017, there were 3,602 fatalities on the state’s roads and thirty-seven percent of those deaths (1,316) were alcohol-related (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)).  Over the ten-year period of 2006 to 2015, 9,226 people were killed on California roads in crashes involving a drunk driver over the current limit of .08 percent BAC, according to NHTSA.  Traffic crashes also cost California taxpayers nearly $20 billion annually.  Moreover, drunk driving is hurting businesses.  Nationally, these crashes cost employers $6 billion each year, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS).

There are also technological vaccines against the epidemic of drunk driving, such as an IID, a mechanism similar to a breathalyzer which is linked to a vehicle’s ignition system.  Before the vehicle can be started, the driver must breathe into the device, and if the result is over the specified BAC limit the vehicle will not start.  Information from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on the effectiveness of IIDs in California notes that since 2010, IIDs have prevented over one million attempts to drive drunk on the Golden State’s roads.  Under current law in California, ignition interlocks are mandated for all offenders except many first time offenders.  SB 545 would require the use of IIDs by all offenders to prevent individuals from operating a vehicle when their BAC exceeds a certain level.

A common misconception is that most people who are convicted of their first drunk driving offense are social drinkers who made one mistake.  However, studies show that the average first offender will have driven drunk 87 times before getting arrested.  A University of Pennsylvania study found that laws requiring IIDs for anyone convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs have reduced alcohol-involved crash deaths by 15 percent.  The study shows that states with mandatory interlock laws saw a decrease of 0.8 deaths for every 100,000 people each year, compared to states with less stringent laws.  This number is comparable to the estimated number of lives saved by frontal airbags (0.9 lives saved per 100,000 people).  There is also clear public support for these laws with surveys showing between 69 and 88 percent of respondents in favor of requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted DUI offenders, even if it’s their first conviction.

MADD found that nationally between 2006 and 2016, IID laws stopped 2.3 million attempts to drive drunk.  The NHTSA has also found that these laws reduce recidivism for both first-time and repeat drunk driving offenders.  Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia (DC) have all-offender IID laws.  This includes all of California’s neighboring states of Oregon, Nevada and Arizona.  We urge California and the other 16 states to enact this law with urgency this legislative session.

The United States has fallen behind other developed nations in prioritizing impaired driving prevention to end traffic fatalities.  A new report from the World Health Organization, “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018,” reviewed laws and crashes in 175 nations and found that the U.S. traffic fatality rate is more than double other developed nations in Western Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan.  One of the key differences between the U.S. and these countries is our impaired driving laws, particularly the .08 percent BAC limit.  For decades other nations have enforced .05 percent or lower BAC laws.

Additionally, .05 percent BAC policy is recommended by leading safety organizations such as the National Association of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the World Health Organization and the National Transportation Safety Board, as well as a majority of Americans.  Recent  national surveys conducted by the AAA Foundation and the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute found that a strong majority of Americans support .05 percent BAC laws (63 percent and 55 percent, respectively). 

California was one of the first states in the nation to lower its BAC law from .10 to .08.  Last year, Utah became the first state in the nation to enforce a .05 percent BAC law, and a number of state legislatures are considering .05 percent BAC bills this session.  Research estimates that if all states adopted a .05 percent or lower BAC law, our nation would experience an 11 percent decline in fatal alcohol crashes and 1,790 lives would be saved.  This is why expeditiously advancing AB 1713 is essential.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adult drivers admitted they drank too much and got behind the wheel approximately 111 million times in 2016, which equals over 300,000 incidents of drinking and driving each day.  However, only 1 million, or approximately one percent, were arrested for driving under the influence that year.  Across our nation, 10,874 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in 2017.  Each person needlessly killed in an alcohol-related crash forever changes the lives of families and communities.

We urge the California Legislature to enact SB 545 and AB 1713 to send a clear message that drunk driving will not be tolerated.  We have proven solutions to protect California families and visitors.  It is past time to implement them and eradicate drunk driving.