Drunk drivers create hazards for themselves and their innocent victims by driving impaired. As summarized by a New York Times columnist in a recent blog posting, support is growing to add alcohol interlocks to new cars. Judges already can order alcohol ignition interlocks for repeat offenders in almost every state.
A number of safety advocate groups enthusiastically recommend using technology to prevent drunk drivers from starting their vehicles. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has advocated for interlock systems on vehicles as part of their campaign to keep drunk drivers off the roads. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is working with MADD in efforts to eliminate drunk driving by promoting technology. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS.org) included alcohol ignition interlocks in their May 19, 2009 Emerging Safety Issues of Statement Before the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has long urged increased use of ignition interlocks for repeat drunk driving offenders. According to a former NHTSA Administrator, “It is unacceptable for us to allow known drunk driving offenders back on the road without some protection for the responsible drivers."
In his blog, the New York Times columnist presents arguments made by safety advocate groups as well as the trade group representing restaurants serving "adult beverages."
"The problem, as stated by MADD, is that many accidents are caused by drunken drivers who have never been arrested. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated that in 2007, if anyone with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher could have been prevented from starting a vehicle, almost 9,000 lives would have been saved. If those who had one or more convictions for driving while intoxicated could have been stopped from driving if they had any trace of alcohol, that would have saved only 1,100 lives, the group said.
There are about 1 million drunken-driving convictions a year, and about 145,000 result in installation of interlocks, which connect a breathalyzer to the ignition system and keep the car from starting if the breath indicates alcohol.
No one is proposing a breathalyzer in every car. The auto and insurance industries are already involved in a cooperative research program to develop passive monitoring systems. Blood alcohol can be measured by bouncing light, in the near-infra-red wavelength, off the skin of a driver. It can also be measured by the sweat on the skin, or by analyzing eye movements."
The American Beverage Institute is hotly contesting the proposal to add alcohol ignition interlocks to vehicles, citing a tendency by manufacturers to agree with MADD to avoid criticism.