The Pennsylvania Senate has passed legislation that will require some first-time offenders convicted of driving under the influence to use interlock devices on their cars.

An ignition interlock device requires the driver to blow into a breathalyzer before it allows the engine to start. The new measure would require anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.10%, just above the legal definition of intoxication at a BAC of 0.08%, to have one of the devices installed.

Jan Withers, president of national nonprofit association Mothers Against Drunk Driving, released a statement just after the decision praising its passage. “Reducing the number of drunk driving fatalities in Pennsylvania begins with strengthening the state's drunken driving laws,” she said.

The measure was approved 50-0 by the Senate, and is expected to pass in the House as well.

Much-Needed Update

This legislation is the first update to the state’s drunken driving laws in a decade.

The Philadelphia Inquirer alleged over the summer that the Pennsylvania legal system had previously been lenient with repeat offenders, and that the state didn’t immediately suspend the licenses of drivers who failed sobriety tests.

The paper further claimed that drunk drivers in Pennsylvania are more likely to be allowed to stay behind the wheel despite repeat offences than negligent drivers in other states.

Drunken Driving in the United States

The statistics on drunken driving in the United States are -- or at least ought to be -- sobering.

Department of Transportation Data show that almost 30 Americans die every day in car crashes including a drunk driver, which averages to one death every 51 minutes.

Even if no one is hurt or killed, the victim of a drunk driver may end up with thousands of dollars in car and engine damage, the most expensive type of auto repair. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol-related crashes cost over $59 billion every year.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that policy changes are effective in reducing rates of impaired driving, particularly those that impose harsher penalties on first-time offenders. The CDC has stated that repeat offenses are reduced by two-thirds by interlock devices.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig W. Stedman said the Senate’s vote is a clear sign of progress. “If this is signed into law, it will save lives,” he told media. “It is as simple as that.”