FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's bourbon industry teamed with leaders of Mothers Against Drunk Driving on Wednesday to promote legislation aimed at reducing drunken driving by increasing the use of a device that block vehicles from starting if the driver isn't sober.
The bill advancing through the General Assembly was touted as a life safer by leaders of MADD and the Kentucky Distillers' Association at a Capitol event. Later on Wednesday, the measure won 34-0 passage in the state Senate.
The goal of the bill's supporters is to expand use of ignition interlock devices by making them available to first-time DUI offenders. Kentucky's existing interlock law makes the devices available to repeat offenders and drivers caught with extremely high blood alcohol concentrations.
Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill's lead sponsor, said Wednesday that use of the devices remains low among DUI offenders, even while the risk of drunken driving remains ever present. In 2017, Kentucky had about 24,500 DUIs, he said.
"If we had equipped more drivers with ignition interlock devices, we wouldn't have nearly as many DUIs, we wouldn't have nearly as many crashes or fatalities," he said before the Senate vote.
The bill sailed through the Senate with little debate and now heads to the House.
An ignition interlock, about the size of a cell phone, is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. Drivers must blow into the devices in order to start their vehicles. If drivers have measurable amounts of alcohol in their system, the vehicles won't start.
The bill's supporters include the state's distillers, county prosecutors and MADD, the nation's best-known advocacy group against drunken driving.
It includes incentives aimed at steering more DUI offenders into using the devices. Offenders opting against having the devices installed in their vehicles would face longer license suspensions.
The bill also includes a compliance provision intended to make sure offenders stay sober. Users would have to demonstrate several months of sobriety.
KDA President Eric Gregory said Wednesday that the measure would take more drunken drivers off the roads and save lives. He said the bill would provide the "accountability" needed for DUI offenders to change their behavior.
"There is no reason today that anybody should ever get behind (the wheel of) a vehicle after drinking," he said at the Capitol event. "There are too many safe-ride options that you don't have to drink and drive."
Gregory said his group last year reached out to Westerfield, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to work on strengthening the ignition interlock law. The result is the bill now winding through the legislature.
Gregory was joined at the statehouse event by Helen Witty, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Strengthening the interlock law is a recognition that many DUI offenders continue to drive in violation of their license suspensions, she said.
"We know we can no longer take away a license and hope for the best," she said. "Ignition interlocks are the only technology we have today that separates the drinker from the car."
Thirty-two states have laws similar to the measure Kentucky lawmakers are considering, she said.
The legislation is Senate Bill 85.