(WALB) - "I've got a big life planned ahead of me," said Ben Huntzinger, who lives in Cairo. "It's so much better than it ever was before."
Huntzinger, 31, said he describes himself as positive and spiritual. However, he said he owes his life to what happened to him in 2009.
"This was my third DUI when I got paralyzed," Huntzinger explained. "I was blacked out from a concert at Saint George Island, going up FL-65. I was going about 110 (mph)...back of the truck slipped out from under me."
At age 22, he crashed his truck, hitting an off-duty Florida State Trooper, breaking a vertebra, and spending the next few months in an Atlanta hospital.
"Flipped like Talladega style, and that was all she wrote," Huntzinger said. "They handed me a wheelchair, and Uncle Sam said, 'good luck.'"
He was paralyzed but continued to drink. Huntzinger calls himself an alcoholic.
"Drinking had me in a spot that I couldn't get out of, and the interlock system has truly saved my life," he said.
"When you start the vehicle up, it will require a test, if you pass the test it will allow the vehicle to proceed," said Heath Eason, C.E.O. of LifeSafer Interlock of South Georgia, in Valdosta. "If you've had any alcohol prior to 15 hours, it's going to detect it."
If the device detects more than .024% alcohol on your breath, your ignition will not crank.
If it does not, your ignition will crank.
Then, while you're driving, it will require random breath tests every few minutes, to keep people from cheating the system.
The computer keeps a log of the results each time your breath is tested.
Each month, the driver has to revisit the installer for recalibration of the device.
Georgia legislation that went into effect in July 2017 allows people charged with their first charge of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) to keep the ability to drive, on one, new condition.
They have to choose to install this device in their car to keep them from drinking and driving, and they can get a temporary driving permit at the same time, so they can continue driving.
The time period for which a DUI offender has to keep the device installed in their car depends. If the offender complied with a sobriety test when originally pulled over, they would need to keep the device installed for four months. If not, they would need to keep the device installed for 12 months.
Georgia has already legally mandated people convicted of two or more DUIs within five years to install the device.
Since July, the Georgia Department of Driver Services has issued more than 100 permits to install ignition interlock devices across the state.
Ivey Griffin, office manager at LifeSafer Interlock of South Georgia, said she has seen many of their clients have a change in heart due to their installation of the device.
"They've seen that they cannot live their life and go to work, or school, or what they need to do if they drink and drive," said Griffin.
The state of Georgia does regulate the installation and maintenance costs of the ignition interlock device.
DDS said installation, de-installation or secured deposit can cost at most $75. Monthly inspection and recalibration of the device can cost at most $75.
A judge can waive those fees depending on financial hardship, but the offender has to go through an application process for that.
Eason said not all of their clients are mandated to install the ignition interlock. Some are volunteers, including some parents of college students.
"They pay for their vehicles and car insurance, and they want to make sure they're not there partying, so they have the device put on the vehicle," said Eason.
"It may make that driver think twice before going out and having too much to drink and getting behind the wheel," said Deputy Kris Herrick with the Crisp County Sheriff's Office, who said he has a passion for traffic enforcement. "I started with the sheriff's office a little over two years ago."
According to Dep. Herrick, this option for first-time DUI offenders will keep people safer by keeping someone already caught drinking and driving from doing it again.
"They pose a danger to themselves and everybody else up and down the roadways," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that ignition interlocks reduce repeat offenses of DUI by 70% when they are installed.
"It'll allow you to continue driving and be able to keep your driver's license until you go to court to answer the charge for the DUI," he explained.
Dep. Herrick said changes in legislation are part of the reason alcohol DUI's are dropping across Georgia.
Huntzinger said he has not had a drink in more than a year.
He said the device opened his eyes, and he hopes it will do the same for others.
"After having seen people that have killed others accidentally, or their own family members, because of their intoxication, I'm very fortunate," he explained.
In 2015, 366 people died in wrecks due to alcohol impairment in Georgia.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving fought to get this piece of legislation passed and continues fighting against drunk driving in our state.
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