HARRISBURG - After being pushed for years by advocates, legislation to require some first-time drunk drivers in Pennsylvania to use ignition-interlock devices is inching toward becoming law.
The House on Monday voted, 193-2, to approve a bill that would force the use of ignition interlocks by first-time offenders whose blood-alcohol concentration was at least 0.10 percent. After returning to the Senate, which unanimously approved an earlier version, the bill would head to Gov. Wolf, who supports it, according to a spokesman.
Connected to the steering wheel or ignition, such devices require drivers to blow into a tube. They prevent the car from starting if they detect an unacceptable blood-alcohol level.
Current law defines drunk drivers as those with an 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level or above. It also only requires ignition interlocks after a second DUI conviction in Pennsylvania.
Advocates say the devices allow offenders to keep a job and meet other responsibilities while also preventing them from drinking and driving.
Between Oct. 1, 2003, and Dec. 1, 2015, ignition interlocks stopped more than 78,000 instances of drunken driving in Pennsylvania, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The group has pushed since at least 2008 for Pennsylvania to require anyone convicted of drunken driving to use an ignition-interlock device.
"The proposal allows these offenders to be part of society, drive wherever they want to, but in a safe and sober way," said Frank Harris, director of state government affairs for MADD.
Twenty-five states require ignition interlock for anyone convicted of drunken driving, and two more have sent bills to enact that requirement to their governors, he said. Deaths from drunken-driving crashes have dropped dramatically in states that require ignition interlock for all offenders, according to MADD.
Chris Demko, a Lancaster County resident whose 18-year-old daughter, Meredith, was killed by a drunk driver in 2014, is among those who advocated for the bill.
Days after the crash that killed his daughter, Demko and his wife wrote a letter to their local newspaper to thank the community for its support, and to ask for help in passing legislation such as an ignition-interlock requirement.
"There's no greater pain than losing a child," Demko said Monday. "We don't want to see it happen to anybody else."
Statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation show 10,288 collisions statewide involving drinking drivers in 2015.