New DUI law has ma­jor flaw

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - BY RANDY EL­LIS Staff Writer rel­lis@ok­la­homan.com

Ok­la­homa’s new DUI law has a glar­ing weak­ness.

Re­gard­less of whether sus­pects are ar­rested for drunken driv­ing or driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs, the new law re­lies on ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices to de­ter re­peat of­fenses while sus­pects par­tic­i­pate in ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams de­signed to per­ma­nently change their be­hav­ior.

Here’s the prob­lem: Ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices will only pre­vent a ve­hi­cle from start­ing if it de­tects al­co­hol on the per­son’s breath. If the per­son is high on heroin, co­caine, mar­i­juana, pain pills or an as­sort­ment of other drugs, the per­son can blow into the de­vice and the ve­hi­cle will start as if noth­ing is wrong.

“That’s been an is­sue for years,” ac­knowl­edged state Rep. Scott Biggs, House au­thor of the DUI bill.

It soon could be­come more of an is­sue if a state ques­tion to lib­er­al­ize Ok­la­homa’s mar­i­juana laws is ap­proved by vot­ers, he said.

“I don’t know of a good an­swer to that, yet, and the peo­ple I’ve talked to still don’t have a good an­swer,” Biggs said.

Brian Mor­ton, an Ok­la­homa City DUI at­tor­ney who is ask­ing Ok­la­homa’s Supreme Court to de­clare the new DUI law un­con­sti­tu­tional, ques­tions the value of re­quir­ing ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices for in­di­vid­u­als ar­rested for driv­ing while high on drugs.

“It’s (fi­nan­cially) puni­tive at that point,” Mor­ton said. “It does noth­ing to stop some­body from fur­ther driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs.”

Fi­nan­cial costs vary de­pend­ing upon the in­ter­lock provider,

but one lo­cal provider quoted a price of $137.25 for the in­stal­la­tion of the de­vice on a car that uses a key to start plus a $75.25 monthly fee for the du­ra­tion of time the de­vice is in use. The in­stal­la­tion price was $25 more on a ve­hi­cle with a push but­ton start.

With some com­pa­nies, there have been com­plaints of hid­den fees.

So what is the logic in re­quir­ing an in­ter­lock de­vice for some­one ar­rested for driv­ing while high on drugs?

At first glance, “it doesn’t make a lot of sci­en­tific sense,” ac­knowl­edged Dr. Ken­neth Blick, chair­man of the Board of Tests for Al­co­hol and Drug In­flu­ence.

How­ever, Blick, Biggs and Kevin Behrens, di­rec­tor of Ok­la­homa’s Board of Tests for Al­co­hol and Drug In­flu­ence, all said in­ter­lock de­vices aren’t to­tally use­less in keep­ing driv­ers high on drugs off the road.

“I think the think­ing there is that peo­ple who abuse drugs also tend

to abuse al­co­hol,” Blick said.

Stud­ies have shown that to be the case, Behrens and Biggs agreed.

The in­ter­lock de­vices won’t de­tect drugs, but if the per­son also has been drink­ing ex­ces­sively, the de­vice will de­tect that and pre­vent the ve­hi­cle from start­ing, they said.

“You’ve got to do some­thing,” Blick said.

Just the in­con­ve­nience and ex­pense of hav­ing to deal with an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vice “should dis­cour­age some­body from a re­peat of­fense and it cer­tainly should keep them from us­ing al­co­hol along with what­ever their drug of choice might be,” Blick said.

Tech­nol­ogy cur­rently is a lim­it­ing fac­tor, he said.

“We haven’t re­ally per­fected an in­ter­lock type de­vice for in­tox­i­cat­ing sub­stances, es­pe­cially the opi­ates and mar­i­juana yet, and of course that’s the big scary deal in those states that have le­gal­ized mar­i­juana,” Blick said. “You cer­tainly don’t want to face some head­lights on a dark road late at night with some­body high on mar­i­juana.”

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