Why do senators throw roadblocks at improving safety on our state’s highways and byways? The Senate last week passed a bill intended to make Massachusetts’ roadways safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, police officers and construction workers, but they balked at language mandating the use of ignition interlock devices for first-time drunken-driving offenders.
There were 15,662 people seriously injured on Massachusetts roads from 2012 to 2016, including 1,820 fatalities, according to the state.
However, the Senate again inexplicably failed to support a measure by Minority Leader Bruce Tarr requiring first-time convicted drunken drivers to have an ignition interlock — a device that tests for blood alcohol levels and prevents a car from starting if it detects alcohol on the driver’s breath — installed in their vehicle.
They’re required in Massachusetts for operators driving under a hardship license after two or more drunken-driving convictions.
“We are the only state in the country that does not allow for the use of interlocks for first-time offenders, Tarr told the State House News Service.
Sen. Joseph Boncore, chairman of the Transportation Committee, asked the Senate to give his panel more time for research standalone legislation to accomplish the same thing.
Representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) testified on Beacon Hill in support of a bill that would have expanded the state’s ignition-interlock program to include all convicted OUI offenders. In October 2009. Nearly 10 years ago.
Senate Bill 1925 would have required an ignition-interlock device for convicted first offenders for a period of six months upon reinstatement of their license.
“In 2007, more than 120 people were killed in Massachusetts and nearly 13,000 are killed (nationwide) annually as a result of drunken-driving crashes,” MADD Massachusetts spokesman David Deluliis wrote in a prepared statement in advance of that Statehouse appearance.
Fast-forward to 2016. In late February, MADD representatives — again –and other advocates converged on the Statehouse in support of a Senate bill before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation that called for ignition interlock devices on all vehicles driven by first-time drunken-driving offenders.
According to a report presented at the time, ignition interlock devices had prevented more than 240,000 instances of drinking and driving in Massachusetts, and more than 12.7 million nationally in the past 10 years.
We don’t know the driving force behind the Senate’s stonewalling of this common-sense legislation — that every state except progressive Massachusetts has instituted.
We urge House members on that joint transportation panel to take a different route. A reconciled transportation-safety bill without an ignition interlock device component for first-time drunken drivers would needlessly leave the state’s motorists and pedestrians at increased risk.
That’s apparently OK with the majority of our state senators.