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Congress Likes Idea of IIDs for Drunk Drivers

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Preventing DWI in New Mexico

An Ignition Interlock Device.

Congress is showing interest in a House transportation bill that would get more states to require convicted drunk drivers to test their blood alcohol level before starting their cars. Fifteen states currently require use of ignition interlock devices (IID) by anyone convicted of drunk driving. The bill was introduced on Tuesday by Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla), and will significantly strengthen highway safety, and advance Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s (MADD’s) Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving®.

As a MADD press release says:

Specifically, the bill includes an ignition interlock incentive grant provision which will encourage states to adopt all offender ignition interlock laws, a key component of the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. In addition, the measure includes important provisions which will help streamline highway safety, providing states more flexibility while holding them accountable for highway safety improvements. It also continues critical paid-ad funding for the annual law enforcement crackdowns on drunk driving and seatbelt use. […]

An ignition interlock is a breath test device linked to a vehicle’s ignition system. When a convicted drunk driver wishes to start his or her vehicle, he or she must first blow into the device. The vehicle will not start unless the driver’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is below a preset level. After passing laws requiring ignition interlock devices for all offenders in Oregon and Arizona, those states saw drunk driving deaths decrease by 52 and 51 percent, respectively.

In addition to saving lives, ignition interlocks also save taxpayers money. The DWI/DUI offender pays for the installation and monitoring of the interlock… In November of last year, MADD released a Report to the Nation showing that drunk driving costs this country $132 billion.

MADD is hoping Congress will add to the bill’s safety provisions by also providing funding for the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) advanced technology program, as covered in the ROADS Safe Act. The Act is sponsored by committee members Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Heath Shuler (D-NC), and is not included in Mica’s legislation. DADSS is a cooperative research project between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and leading automakers through the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety to encourage and support the development of new technology that would stop drivers whose blood alcohol level is over the legal limit from operating a vehicle.

In a phone conversation with this blog, Anne Teigen, senior policy specialist in the Denver office of the National Conference of State Legislatures, explained the difference between an ignition interlock device and DADSS. IID is installed after somebody has been convicted of drunk driving. The idea with DADSS is to have something installed in new vehicles that would apply to everybody, including people never arrested for drunk driving. “There has not been a policy saying we’re going to do this or anything like that,” she emphasized.

Teigen said:

‘[With DADSS] they’re looking for the potential to find a system that would be reliable, easy to use in extreme temperatures — from Alaska to the heat of Arizona —  that is small and non-invasive, and would prevent a vehicle from being driven when a driver’s blood alcohol level is over the legal limit. They’re looking to see if it’s possible to integrate DADSS into the vehicle much like a seat belt.’

Richard Simon reports in the Los Angeles Times that the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association, opposed the idea of requiring ignition interlock devices for all drunk drivers. But Congress appears to be getting behind the bill. Simon writes: “Dangling money in front of financially strapped states to nudge them into requiring the devices has emerged as one area of agreement in a divided Congress trying to write a new transportation spending bill in a politically charged election year.” There is a similar bill headed for the Senate.

MADD writes that in 2010, 10,228 people in the United States were killed in car accidents involving a drunk driver, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that DADSS could save almost 8,000 lives per year.

“While drunk driving remains the primary threat to American families traveling on our roadways, we are closer than ever to making sure no family must endure the pain of losing a loved one to this 100-percent preventable crime,” said MADD National President Jan Withers. “Chairman Mica and Ranking Member Rahall are to be commended for the interlock section of this legislation which validates MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving through its strong support of ignition interlocks.”

Image by Preventing DWI in New Mexico, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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