New Pennsylvania Bill Would Ensure Drunk Drivers Don’t Lose Jobs, Too

The last 30 years have seen dramatic increases in the enforcement and penalties associated with drunk driving. While these efforts are certainly well-intentioned, they have often had the side effect of causing those convicted to lose not just their license, but also their job.

Under current Pennsylvania law, those convicted of DUI who have no prior drunk driving record face an automatic one-year suspension of their driver's license if they do not qualify for a diversionary program. Moreover, even if they qualify for a special Occupational Limited License (OLL), they will still have to serve a 60 day suspension before receiving a restricted license. For many people, this could mean they can't get to work, causing them to lose their job. In some cases the financial hardships bring further problems, leading to the loss of their home and even their marriage.

A new bill in the Pennsylvania Senate, introduced by Senator John Rafferty, could change much of that for the better. The bill takes the approach of getting smarter rather than getting tougher, by allowing first-time DUI offenders to apply for a limited driver's license after just 15 days-if the driver installs an ignition interlock system.

An ignition interlock system is basically a breathalyzer that is mounted inside the car which requires the driver to be sober before the car will start. The system also requires periodic checks while the driver is on the road, to ensure that a drunk person doesn't just get a friend to breathe into the device to start the car.

Ignition interlock systems have proven popular nationwide. Many states require them for drivers with multiple DUI convictions, and all 50 states have some sort of ignition interlock law. Fourteen states already require ignition interlocks for first-time offenders.

The new bill in Pennsylvania has approved by the Transportation Committee and is now being considered by the Appropriations Committee. There is no guarantee that the bill will become law or that the final bill will retain the 15-day time restriction before qualifying for a limited license. Still, the proposal strikes a better balance between keeping drunk drivers off the roads and forcing those with drinking problems out of work, which only makes their problems worse.

The bill must be approved by both houses of the General Assembly before the session ends in 2012 to become law. Until then, anyone accused of drunk driving must rely on an experienced DUI attorney to ensure they don't lose the keys to their job along with the keys to their car.