Government Turns to Technology to Combat Drunken Driving

The US Government and auto safety groups praised technology that prevents a drunken driver from starting a vehicle, which could potentially greatly reduce alcohol-related deaths, at a a meeting yesterday led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Currently, the criminal justice system has not widely embraced alcohol ignition interlock devices because of long-standing questions about their cost and effectiveness, although New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, and Illinois have passed laws to require the use of the interlock devices for first-time offenders. These devices require drivers to blow into an instrument that measures alcohol. A vehicle will not start unless the driver's blood alcohol concentration is below a set level. According to Nicole Nason, chief of the NHTSA, "[the interlock devices] are not that easy to defeat but there is a perception out there that they are."

Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said preventing people with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 and higher from driving could save an estimated 9,000 lives per year. About 1.4 million people are arrested for drunken driving each year in the US, with over 13,000 annual fatalities, but only about 100,000 interlock devices are in use. "We are really working on a vaccine for drunk driving. Not on the drunk, but on the vehicle," said Chuck Hurley, chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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