November 30, 2006


A proposal by MADD to crack down on drunk driving with a range of countermeasures, including in-car technologies to detect drunk drivers behind the wheel and prevent them from operating vehicles, has gotten serious coverage in the press, and support from regulators and the auto safety community. The proposal echoes one made more than ten years ago in a New York Times opinion piece. Articles in recent issues of the Detroit Free Press and the New York Times, as well as an editorial in the Times supporting the approach, appear to reflect serious interest in it.

From the Free Press article:

The [MADD] push -- which includes calling for breath-test interlock devices in the vehicle of anyone convicted of drunken driving -- comes as current efforts to fight driving under the influence have made little progress in reducing alcohol-related deaths in recent years and spawned a backlash against some tactics. While drunken-driving arrests hit 1.4 million in 2004, deaths in crashes involving intoxicated drivers have held steady around 13,000 per year. Since 1999, every state has set a 0.08 blood alcohol level as the point at which a driver can be convicted of drunken driving. They also have added penalties such as instant cancellation of driver's licenses and vehicle impoundment for suspects who refuse blood alcohol tests.

From the New York Times article:

The threat of arrest and punishment, for decades the primary tactic against drunken drivers, is no longer working in the struggle to reduce the death toll, officials say, and they are proposing turning to technology — alcohol detection devices in every vehicle — to address the problem…

Many states already require the devices, known as ignition interlocks, for people who have been convicted several times. Last year New Mexico became the first to make them mandatory after a first offense. With that tactic and others, the state saw an 11.3 percent drop in alcohol-related fatalities last year.

From the New York Times editorial:

Currently, 45 states, the District of Columbia and most Canadian provinces have laws that require or allow some offenders — mostly those convicted more than once — to install alcohol interlocks on their cars if they wish to drive. Some 100,000 interlocks are in service in the United States.

Restaurant groups are complaining that wider use of the devices would eliminate wine at dinner, beer at ballgames, and other forms of “responsible drinking.” But it is hardly responsible for a driver to drink so heavily that the interlock kicks in. Driving is a privilege, not a right. If those convicted of drunken driving want the privilege, they ought to take extra steps to protect the rest of us.

Posted by MVHAP at November 30, 2006 07:47 PM