Below is a press release from State Senator Bruce Tarr’s Office:
BOSTON, MA — A long-sought proposal to stop incidents of drunk driving in Massachusetts now moves to the Governor’s desk. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, drafted and sponsored the successful inclusion of a budget amendment as part of the new state fiscal year operating budget.
The measure subjects all convicted drunk drivers, including first-time offenders, to comply with the vehicle ignition interlock device law. Equipment is installed and connected to a vehicle’s ignition system and requires the driver to provide a breath sample before the vehicle’s engine will start.
“The inclusion of this amendment will put in place a powerful tool to prevent drunk driving by first-time offenders and prevent the loss of lives and serious injuries on the roadways of the commonwealth,” said Tarr. “With bipartisan support, and years of advocacy from friends and families of victims, we are now ready to take a major advance in curbing preventable crashes and deadly behavior.”
Proponents of the safety measure, who have pursued the legislative change for more than a decade, say that drunk driving remains a serious public safety threat akin to a public health epidemic with 33,000 people killed annually and injuries to two million more.
“As we enter the holiday season, which is emotional for so many of our victims and survivors, we are grateful for Sen. Tarr’s amendment,” said Mary Kate Depamphilis, Mothers Against Drunk Driving program director for the New England Region. “Through this legislation, we honor the lives we have lost to drunk driving and those living with injuries every day. We also honor the countless lives that will be saved in the Commonwealth as we move forward. Again, we are thankful to the lawmakers who have made this happen, especially Sen. Tarr and Rep. Whelan — both MADD Legislator of the Year award winners in 2019.”
MADD, a national organization dedicated to ending drunk and drugged driving, reports that drunk driving deaths have risen 9% since 2014 while arrests are down. The group says that over the past dozen years, interlocks have prevented over 39,000 attempts to drive drunk in Massachusetts.
Proponents of the legislation, including AAA Northeast, MADD, and others, say that a majority of drivers with a suspended license continue to get behind the wheel and drive. A more effective approach, they declare, and one with years’ worth of federal and state data to affirm it, would require all convicted offenders seeking a hardship ability to drive to use an interlock device before the vehicle can be started.
According to a recent AAA study, 82% of Massachusetts respondents said they favored requiring all drunk driving offenders, including first-time offenders, to breathe into a device that prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Some 7% opposed such a change in the law.
Sen. Tarr says he is strongly optimistic that Gov. Charlie Baker will support the inclusion of the interlock language in the budget citing a bill of a similar nature offered by the Baker-Polito Administration earlier in the two-year legislative session.
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