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Auto club joins cry for tougher DUI penalties

Tennessee already has, by many peoples' standards, tough laws when it comes to dealing with driving under the influence. The effects of a DUI conviction can run the gamut from loss of license and a year's probation. Even a first-time offense carries a mandatory 48-hour stint in jail. Subsequent convictions result in longer terms. And such convictions can't be expunged from the record.

Among the tools that authorities tend to use to enforce the state's DUI laws are field sobriety tests. While many cases are put forward relying on the results of the tests, they are notoriously faulty, meaning that the basis of the case is full of holes. There are too many subjective variables and devices used are often improperly calibrated. Anyone charged with driving while impaired should be prepared to vigorously question the evidence based on field sobriety tests.

Despite the shortcomings of these kinds of tests, there is a movement to try to get what amounts to mobile field sobriety testing devices into the vehicles of anyone who is convicted of a DUI charge -- even first-time offenders. At the center of the movement is the so-called ignition interlock device (IID).

This is a device that courts may order to be installed at driver expense. They are meant to prevent a car from being started unless the user's blood alcohol content is below the legal limit. Tennessee law allows their use for first-time offenders in only very limited situations. But the National Transportation Safety Board and also AAA have joined voices to call for their use in every case of a DUI conviction. Officials for the NTSB and the auto club say that greater use of IIDs would go a long way toward protecting us all from drunk drivers.

The hospitality and beverage industries have come out against the plan, calling it an overreach. They say it's overly harsh and costly. It fails to take individual situations into account. They say the issue should be left up to judges to determine.

Additionally, the question of accuracy of the devices hasn't been brought into question. Considering the issues known with existing field sobriety test methods, some legal experts would likely suggest that IID accuracy deserves to be examined, as well.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "AAA joins call for ignition devices for first-time drunk drivers," Jerry Hirsch, Dec. 26, 2012

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