Testimony heard on Beacon Hill in support of bill aimed at preventing drunk driving

Testimony heard on Beacon Hill in support of bill aimed at preventing drunk driving

BOSTON — Testimony was heard on Beacon Hill Tuesday in support of a bill aimed at preventing drunk and drugged driving in Massachusetts.

Representative Tim Whelan of Brewster authored the bill, which would require ignition interlocks for first time offenders of operating under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Massachusetts is the only state that doesn't allow ignition interlocks for any first time offender.

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"I filed this bill, which aims to offer first time OUI offenders an opportunity to have their driving privileges restored early with a license restriction that they only operate vehicles with ignition interlock devices to ensure sobriety behind the wheel," Whelan said. "It's time for Massachusetts to join every other state in the nation and help reduce the incidence of drunk driving."

Whelan testified before the Joint Commission on the Judiciary, along with MADD Massachusetts Program Manager Mary Kate DePamphilis and Sarah Carmichael, who survived a violent crash caused by a drunk driver.

According to data released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 120 people were killed last year in alcohol-related crashes in Massachusetts, accounting for a third of all traffic-related deaths in the state.

In Massachusetts, drivers are only required to get an ignition interlock after they're convicted of drunken driving two or more times. Since the requirement went into effect in 2006, the devices have prevented drunk drivers in Massachusetts from starting their cars more than 39,000 times, a MADD report found.

"MADD believes these small, in-car breathalyzers should be required for all offenders with an illegal .08 blood alcohol concentration and above," the organization stated. "The devices are far safer than license suspension alone, which is ignored 50 to 75 percent of the time."

John and Teresa Kotfila of Falmouth have been pushing for ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders in Massachusetts since the death of their eldest son, John Robert. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy was killed in 2016 when he intentionally drove his cruiser into a wrong-way driver on a Tampa highway to stop the car. Police said the driver's blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit.

"It's a common sense solution to a common problem," John Kotfila, a Massachusetts State Police sergeant, told Boston 25 News in 2017. "If you have an interlock device, what are you doing? You're going to set it off probably three or four times before it finally gets through to you that, I can't drink and drive. That's when the behavior starts changing. If that behavior starts changing, drunk driving accidents are going to go down and that's our goal."

Falmouth family pushing for ignition interlock devices