MONTGOMERY — Legislation that would end an ignition interlock installation requirement for those guilty of drunk driving and participating in a pretrial diversion program passed the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee unanimously on Wednesday. 

According to the legislation, under existing law, a person who has been charged with driving under the influence and who participates in a pretrial diversion program or similar program is required to install an ignition interlock device on his or her vehicle for a minimum of six months or the duration of the program, whichever is greater. This will no longer be required as of July 1, 2023 if the legislation is passed. 

The bill would allow a judge instead to order a person charged with driving under the influence and who participates in a pretrial diversion program or a similar program to install an ignition interlock device for a period of time as specified by the judge.

After the committee passed the bill with a substitute amendment on Wednesday morning, a "coalition of advocacy groups" issued a press release accusing a "rogue group of State Senators" of attempting to weaken Alabama's DUI laws. 

Ignition interlocks are a type of car breathalyzer. 

Jill Arrington, regional executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for Alabama and Georgia, said, "MADD believes the only safe option after a drunk driving offense is to require the driver to have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicle." 

"These devices are proven to stop repeat drunk driving offenses by people who refuse to make the correct, safe choice themselves to never drive while impaired," Arrington said in a statement after the legislation passed out of committee on Wednesday. "For the safety of all Alabama communities, MADD urges a swift rejection of SB 72 as amended."

Sam Nathews, a spokesperson for the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, said in a press release, "[M]ore people will likely die on Alabama roads if this weakened legislation becomes law." 

"The fact that this is an issue at all reflects poorly on the legislature," he added. "As a proud Alabamian, I find it impossible to believe the people of Alabama even know about these shameful shenanigans, much less support any legislation that would neuter one of the few proven tools in law enforcement's toolbox to prevent impaired driving."

According to their websites, both Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility list ignition interlock companies as corporate donors. 

State Sen. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) told 1819 News on Wednesday the proposed change was the result of a subcommittee appointed by Senate Transportation and Energy Committee Chairman State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) made up of her and State Sens. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) and Will Barfoot (Pike Road).

"After reviewing we felt that there needs to be judicial discretion. Judges have discretion on murder and rape and other things," Weaver said. "We feel like they should also have judicial discretion for this. While we certainly support tough DUI laws, sometimes there is a change in technology and we're making sure that this is the best technology that is available for them to use."

Albritton and Barfoot didn't return requests for comment.

Legislation mandating the ignition interlock device installation for pretrial diversion programs was passed into law in 2018. The law is scheduled to sunset on July 1, 2023.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.