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A Patriot Ledger series: Summary | PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | UPDATES

Melanie's Story

A first-hand story from the grandfather of 13-year-old victim Melanie Powell
Memories of Melanie: A photo slideshow


State ranked among the worst in nation
Quincy judge was among first to take a hard line


TIMELINE: How Massachusetts drunken driving law has changed
Alcohol's causes and effects
How local and state courts treat repeat drunken drivers
Busiest courts in state for drunken driving arraignments

The cost of drunken driving

Massachusetts fails compared with other states
Death toll from drunken driving

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Repeat drunken drivers face in-car test

Mandatory device will check for sobriety,
prevent vehicle from starting if blood-alcohol reading is too high

~ The Patriot Ledger

Some multi-time drunken drivers soon will have to pass an in-car sobriety test before starting their vehicles.

In the next several days, the Registry of Motor Vehicles plans to unveil regulations that require people with hardship driver’s licenses to install a breath analyzer in their vehicles.

If a driver fails the breath test, the analyzer will disable the vehicle’s ignition.

The analyzer requirement could take effect in as little as four months, a Registry official said.

“For individuals that comply with the laws and seek a hardship license in order to drive, it’s going to provide an additional safeguard,” said Erin Deveney, deputy registrar for policy and planning.

A person convicted of drunken driving can apply for hardship license, which allows the holder to drive, during limited hours, to school, work and other selected destinations before his or her license suspension ends.

A two-time offender is eligible for a hardship license six months into the two-year suspension period.

Massachusetts lags behind most of the country when it comes to using the ignition-disabling technology. Firty-five states require analyzer/disabler use by some drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Gov. Mitt Romney ordered the Registry to institute tough drunken-driving rules nearly a year and a half ago. Deveney said the Registry held off because officials anticipated the passage of legislation requiring analyzers in the vehicles of all repeat drunken drivers, not just the vehicles of hardship-license holders.

The Legislature did not pass the broader requirement, so the Registry is moving forward with the more limited regulations. Because the Registry grants hardship licenses and determines the terms, legislative approval is not needed, Deveney said.

The Registry issued 5,299 hardship licenses in 2003 and 6,488 in 2004, but some of them went to first-time drunken drivers – to whom the new regulations will not apply – and to people whose licenses were suspended because of violations unrelated to alcohol, spokeswoman Amie O’Hearn said.

Under the regulations, second-, third- and fourth-offense drunken drivers with hardship licenses would have to have breath analyzers installed by certified dealers and would not be allowed to drive vehicles not analyzer-equipped, Deveney said.

She said the program would not cost the state anything.

The analyzer/disabler requirement would be noted on driver’s licenses.

After getting into the car, the driver would blow into the analyzer; a blood-alcohol reading higher than 0.02 percent would activate the ignition disabler. In Massachusetts, the normal legal limit is 0.08 percent.

The driver also would have to blow into the analyzer periodically, to ensure that someone else did not start the car.

With each starting of the vehicle, data would be recorded, so if a breath test was failed, the information could be reported to the Registry during monthly maintenance checks, Deveney said.

The Registry expects to file the regulations with the secretary of state’s office no later than next week. The filing will start a 120-day public-comment period, during which hearings will be held. Unless revisions are needed, the rules will take effect after the 120 days.

David DeIuliis, spokesman for Massachusetts Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the organization had not seen the regulations but generally favors use of breath analyzers/ignition disablers.

“We feel it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “As far as regulations they are planning to file, we are going to be very interested to see what they are.”

Of 462 Massachusetts traffic deaths in 2003, 207 were alcohol-related, DeIuliis said.

The National Commission Against Drunk Driving reported that the use of ignition disablers led to a 40 to 95 percent reduction in the rate of repeat drunken-driving offenses.

The likelihood of repeat offenses return to previous levels once the devices are removed, according to the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety.

The Registry acknowledges that use of the devices is not a magic bullet.

“This technology will not address the larger problem, which is the people who continue to drive whether they have a valid license or not,” Deveney said.

Karen Eschbacher may be reached by



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