BOSTON – Massachusetts now stands alone as the only state in the country where people convicted of drunken driving for the first time are not made to use devices meant to make sure they are not under the influence before getting behind the wheel again.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, AAA Northeast and other groups have for years pushed legislators to expand the requirement of having an ignition interlock device — which tests a driver’s blood-alcohol level before starting the car — installed in the vehicles of first-time drunken driving offenders.
On Wednesday, a Shrewsbury woman who survived a 2008 crash caused by a drunken driver said “it’s a little bit like a slap in the face” that Massachusetts lawmakers have resisted a policy that 49 other states have put in place and that the Centers for Disease Control says reduces repeat drunken driving by an average of 67 percent.
“Massachusetts is known as a very progressive state and for driving a lot of different fields of the economy and we’re last in this. We’re last in protecting the residents of the commonwealth and really the residents of the entire nation,” Sarah Carmichael, who volunteers with MADD, said at the Statehouse. “It seems absolutely silly to me that we don’t have this law in place.”
There were 120 people killed in drunken-driving crashes on Massachusetts roads in 2017, MADD said, the same number of fatalities as in 2008, when Carmichael survived a five-car pileup caused by a woman driving drunk.
“She didn’t sustain any injuries,” Carmichael said of the woman who caused the crash at the intersection of Route 30 and Speen Street in Framingham.
“I was in a medically induced coma for about two weeks. I broke almost every bone in my body. I had a fractured neck ... my pelvis was completely shattered, so I have metal implants in my pelvis that I’ll never get removed and, obviously, a lot of pain and a lot of kind of lasting things.”
Under current law, ignition interlocks are required in Massachusetts for operators driving under a hardship license after two or more drunken driving convictions.
Carmichael joined MADD officials to call for legislative action on bill (S 7, S 2137 and H 1580) that would require drivers use ignition interlock devices after first-time OUI offenses.
“They were working on this bill before I was even in the crash that I was in,” Carmichael said of MADD, adding that the woman who caused the crash she was injured in had been previously arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
The two Senate bills, one of which was filed by Gov. Charlie Baker, are pending before the Transportation Committee and only one has had a hearing.
The House bill, filed by retired state police trooper and Rep. Tim Whelan, is before the Judiciary Committee and has not yet had a hearing.
After coming to the Statehouse for the last three or four years to testify in support of ignition interlock bills, Carmichael said it is becoming frustrating to watch Massachusetts continue to hold out on something that every other state has embraced.
“As a survivor, it’s a little bit like a slap in the face because I feel like I went through hell and back and I survived. Looking at me, you wouldn’t have any clue that I had all these injuries — I had to learn how to walk again, that I couldn’t even sit up in bed, that I was in a coma for two weeks — nobody would have any idea,” she said. “And it feels a little bit like it’s a slap in the face to have gone through all of that, to put myself out here time and time again along with MADD and have the actual data to back it up.”