ALABAMA (WAFF) - Nine months ago WAFF told you about changes to Alabama's DUI law regarding ignition interlock devices.
The original legislation was passed all the way back in 2012, but lawmakers revised it after loopholes were discovered and the devices weren't being installed. The improvements were praised as a way to make Alabama roads safer. But have those changes made any difference at all?
Convicted of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of .15 or more, and you're looking at a mandatory interlock in your vehicle. Caught drinking and driving a second time, and it's a mandatory interlock. Those are just two of several ways an Alabamian can end up driving with this device for months.
According to Mother Against Drunk Driving, Alabama averages roughly 9,000 DUI convictions annually. You'd think a lot of those folks have
an interlock, right? Wrong. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency reports since Alabama's Ignition Interlock law went into effect in 2012, 561 interlock restrictions have been issued. That's not yearly. That's over a three-year period.
"Let's say there's about 10,000 DUI convictions a year. We would hope to see at least 5,000 interlocks installed," said M.A.D.D.'s Frank Harris
who believes the Alabama law needs more work, again. And he points at others. That includes Mississippi who updated its interlock law last October. According to Harris, our neighbors are doing a lot more to protect the public on the road.
"There's over 1,000 ignition interlocks installed in Mississippi right now. And that's pretty amazing considering that Mississippi didn't have three and a half years to build up to this law like Alabama did," said Harris.
"You've got people passing these laws, many of which, most of which, have never been a lawyer," said Huntsville attorney Russell Crumbley. Crumbley estimates he's handled more than 3,000 DUI cases in his career. He's pretty knowledgeable on the interlock issue. He's held seminars on it and seen the law in action first hand.
"I had one this week that is probably going to get one," said Crumbley.
But when WAFF 48 News asked how well the law is being rolled out... "Growing pains," said Crumbley. "That's a great way to look at it."
And that's the same way Donna Tate describes it.
"Slow is an understatement I guess you would say," said Tate. She works for SmartStart. They're one of three companies certified to install, service, and provide interlock devices to Alabama drivers. She's in the process of working with the criminal justice system to make sure the courts are holding up their end of the law.
"It's challenging. But I do have a deep understanding of what it is like on the other side," said Tate. "I think we've got to be patient. I think we've got to encourage are partners in the criminal justice system to be as aggressive as possible around this issue," said Tate.
We also asked Tate if loopholes still exist.
"There are places that the statute can definitely be improved," said Tate. And that's where Mothers Against Drunk Driving is stepping up because Frank Harris is more than just a M.A.D.D. spokesperson. Harris is also the organizations Director of Government Affairs. He told WAFF 48 News our state's law allows some Alabamians convicted of a DUI to opt out of an interlock altogether and instead have their license suspended.
"License suspension alone doesn't work," said Harris. "It doesn't work to protect the public. It doesn't work to rehabilitate the offender,"said Harris. "License suspension is just a hope for the best mentality."