BY THE NUMBERS
54,081: Number of three-time offenders in Tennessee
16,602: Number of five-time offenders in Tennessee
303: DUI fatalities
Source: Mothers Against Drunk Driving
A new Tennessee law will now require DUI offenders with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 or higher to install and pay for an in-car breathalyzer if they want to continue to drive.
Under another new law, state judges are required to declare whether a person facing DUI charges is a "danger to the community," making it possible to deny bond to repeat DUI offenders.
The laws, part of a package of legislation that went into effect the first of the year, are intended to beef up DUI prosecution statewide and scare first-time offenders enough to keep them from returning to court.
"We currently have people out on bond that commit vehicular homicide or other DUIs," said Kate Lavery, an assistant district attorney and DUI prosecutor in Hamilton County. "This will strike right at the heart of our issue.
"My hope is that this will decrease offenses," she said.
But some say the new and expanded DUI laws aren't tough enough to cut back on drunk-driving deaths.
"We were pushing for a stronger law," said Laura Dial, the executive director for Tennessee Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "We are hoping that (this law) is a step in the right direction."
The in-car breathalyzers are part of ignition interlock devices, which lease for about $60 a month and prevent a car from starting if alcohol is detected on a driver's breath.
Under Tennessee law, a driver convicted of DUI for the first time loses his or her license for one year. Under the new law, a first-time offender also can be ordered to install a breathalyzer in order to get a restricted driver's license -- one that allows limited driving to such places as work and school -- or to have the driver's license reinstated at the end of the revocation period.
Along with being mandated for offenders with at least a 0.15 blood-alcohol level -- almost twice the baseline DUI level of 0.08 -- the breathalyzers will be required for first-time DUI offenders who are driving with a passenger under the age of 18, who cause a wreck that resulted in injury or property damage more than $400 or who refuse to allow blood-alcohol testing after arrest.
If a driver receives a second DUI conviction, the driver's license is suspended for two years under current law. Under the new law, a driver with a second DUI conviction in a five-year period may be required to use an ignition interlock device for six months after the driver's license is reinstated.
Tennessee is among 11 states to mandate ignition interlock devices with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, according to statistics compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Thirteen states -- including Florida, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia -- require in-car breathalyzers for all first-time offenders whose blood-alcohol level is above 0.08, and California is conducting a pilot program for the devices in several counties, according to MADD.
In seven states, including Georgia and South Carolina, the devices are mandatory after a second DUI conviction.
States that enact such laws see a significant decrease, up to 30 percent, in DUI-related deaths because many people who say they aren't going drive do anyway, according to Dial.
"What we want to see is for everyone who gets a DUI to be mandated to have an interlock for a certain period of time," Dial said. "In Tennessee, we could save about 100 lives per year, that doesn't include the property damage we could prevent. The law has an extremely strong deterrent effect."
Contact staff writer Joan Garrett at jgarrett@times freepress.com or 423-757-6610.