- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A lawmaker’s proposal to test the sobriety of drunken driving offenders when they get behind the wheel won support Tuesday from groups that crusade against impaired driving and promote the bourbon industry.

State Rep. Dennis Keene’s bill drew praise from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. The legislation aims to have ignition interlock devices installed in the vehicles of DUI offenders as a way to keep them from putting lives in danger by drinking and driving again.

“Interlocks keep drunk drivers from driving drunk,” MADD national President Colleen Sheehey-Church said at a Capitol rally. “They protect the public and they allow offenders to continue with their daily lives.”

The rally came as the Kentucky General Assembly resumed its 30-working-day session Tuesday after a three-week break. The session will continue into March.

Twenty-four states currently have ignition interlock laws similar to Keene’s bill, according to MADD.

Keene, D-Wilder, said his bill would require repeat DUI offenders to have the devices installed in their vehicles. First-time offenders could be back on the road sooner if they had the devices in their vehicles, he said. That would allow them to drive to their jobs without putting other motorists at risk, he said.

Drivers must blow into the devices in order to start their vehicles. If their blood alcohol concentration exceeds a certain level, the vehicles won’t start.

Drivers are also required to blow into the devices at various intervals while driving. Failure to do so would set off an alarm such as flashing the vehicle lights or honking the horn.

DUI offenders would pay for the ignition interlock devices, and aid would be available for the indigent, Keene said. The devices would cost offenders about $4 a day, he said.

Keene, whose daughter Kelly was seriously injured when her vehicle was struck by a drunken driver, has been pushing the legislation for several years. Past versions passed the House but died in the Senate.

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, said Tuesday that his group has backed past versions but decided to become more vocal supporters this year.

“The time is right for this bill,” Gregory said in a phone interview. “It’s good public policy. It will help save lives and it’s time for us to get behind it.”

In 2013, 163 people died in Kentucky as a result of alcohol-related traffic crashes, the bill’s supporters said. More than 60 of the victims were teenagers, they said.

Sheehey-Church said the ignition interlock devices are important because many DUI offenders continue to drive even with suspended licenses.

“License suspension alone is no longer the best approach to stop drunk driving,” she said.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said he met with MADD representatives on Tuesday but had not yet had a chance to review Keene’s bill.

“We understand the concept of it, but we need to look at it to have a valid assessment,” he told reporters.

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The legislation is House Bill 60.

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