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Published May 11 2013

Whether ND DUI reform went far enough a ‘leap of faith’

FARGO – After losing his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in a crash caused by a drunken driver last summer, Tom Deutscher prays that North Dakota’s tougher DUI law works.

Deutscher, who became an outspoken advocate for strengthening drunken- driving laws in the wake of the crash, is optimistic about parts of the new law, such as the mandatory participation in the 24/7 sobriety program for repeat offenders. He has mixed emotions about other tools considered but rejected by the Legislature, including ignition interlock devices and mandatory jail time for all first-time offenders.

Only time and statistics will tell if lawmakers made the right call, he said.

“I think you have to study it to see whether your decisions were sound,” he said Friday. “Some of this was a leap of faith based on other states.”

With the new law set to take effect Aug. 1, The Forum compared its penalties with those of neighboring states and found North Dakota’s law weaker in some aspects and tougher in others.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which in 2006 began campaigning for ignition interlock laws in every state for all offenders, applauded North Dakota’s new DUI law but indicated it will continue to push for mandatory interlock devices in the state.

Ignition interlock devices are put in vehicles to prevent offenders from driving if their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is above a certain level.

Frank Harris, MADD’s state legislative affairs manager, noted that House Bill 1302 signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple last month requires a legislative management study that must include a review of the use of interlock devices.

“Currently, 17 states require the use of interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, and MADD hopes in 2015 North Dakota will join these states,” he said in an email.

To make its case, MADD refers to researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who conducted a systematic review of 15 scientific studies on interlock devices. Their findings, published in the