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|Repeat DUI offenders in Fla. to get dashboard breathalyzer machines
TALLAHASSEE · Penalties against Florida's drunken drivers are now much stiffer.
The use of "ignition interlock devices," a mechanism that hooks to a dash-mounted breath analysis machine and will not allow anyone with more than a 0.05 blood-alcohol level on his or her breath to start the vehicle, became law Sunday.
Drivers convicted of a second or third DUI charge since July 1, 2002, are subject to the new rule, which was approved in December by the Florida Cabinet and Gov. Jeb Bush.
Almost 4,000 letters were sent last week from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to drivers who might need the device before reapplying for a license following a DUI suspension, agency spokesman Robert Sanchez said Sunday.
"They're just now getting to that point," Sanchez said.
The device would be installed following a second drunken driving conviction, although judges will have discretion to order its use by first-time DUI offenders.
Monitoring units also have measures to prevent a sober person from having the ability to start the vehicle for someone under the influence of alcohol.
Following the reinstatement of driving privileges, those convicted of DUI will be ordered to use the device for at least a year.
The person convicted of the DUI offense would pay $70 for installation and $67.50 a month for a monitoring and recalibration during the period the instrument is attached to the vehicle.
That work will be done by private-sector DUI schools under contract with the state.
Critics say the cost is excessive. "That's a lot of money for some people," Melbourne DUI defense attorney told Florida Today for its Sunday editions.
Sanchez, though, said the offenders brought the problems on themselves and has little sympathy for those who will struggle with the financial repercussions.
Under the new law, it's now a misdemeanor to refuse a breath analysis test. Under state law, any driver stopped with a blood alcohol of 0.08 or more is subject to arrest.
At least 42 other states have some form of the ignition interlock program already in place, said DHSMV executive director Fred Dickinson, who added that about 1,000 highway fatalities in the state last year were alcohol-related.
All states are required by a 2000 federal law to have the program in place or risk losing up to 3 percent of their highway construction funds.