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Federal Funding for Interlocks — Bad Idea

July 14, 2010 By: Donna Hood Crecca

Does $60 million in federal funding for research into in-vehicle ignition interlock devices sound like a good idea to you? It does to the Senate Commerce Committee, which late last week approved the ROADS SAFE act (Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere), which calls for $60 million in funding over five years for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program to research and develop in-vehicle blood alcohol detection and ignition interlock systems. ROADS SAFE was introduced in February by New Mexico Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Bob Corker (R-TN), who are joined by New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D).

Now, the bill just calls for research funding; the actual mandate to install in all cars is another process. That said, this funding is a huge step toward universal interlock, an idea that’s getting a strong foothold among lawmakers. Udall, for one, is an open proponent of universal ignition interlock; he recently told KFDA news in Clovis, New Mexico that he "ultimately would like to see the government require this device in every vehicle sold in the U.S."

This use of taxpayer dollars doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. While I don’t operate a bar or restaurant, I do frequent them and like to have a drink when I do. Fast-forward a few short years and I won’t be able to do so, nor will you or your guests. Connect the dots and you see the implications for your business model.

So the business reality is a stark one for anyone with a license to serve alcohol on-premise. But think a bit beyond that. Ignition interlock does have its place – I’m all for putting the devices in the vehicles of repeat drunk driving offenders or those with high blood alcohol concentration (BAC). But putting one in every car of every driver in the U.S. penalizes the majority of adults who are responsible consumers of alcohol and the on-premise licensees who serve responsibly.

Let’s take it one step further. Universal ignition interlock is one step closer to Prohibition; if you can’t drink in bars and restaurants, where can you drink? Such a law will force people to throw more house parties, where consumption goes largely unmonitored, especially among young adults.

The bottom line is that Americans will drink alcohol, not matter what; the excesses of Prohibition that lead to Repeal are proof of that. When drinking in a public place is not allowed or unacceptable, you force it back into the dark, making it more difficult to regulate for responsible consumption and more of a cultural taboo.

When drinking is a cultural taboo, we stop teaching young people about responsibility. One of my pet peeves is parents who don’t talk with their teenage and young adult children about drinking and then are shocked when their kids over-indulge to the point of endangering themselves during Power Hours on their 21st birthdays. Would you simply hand you kid the keys to the car the minute they turned of legal age to drive without any instruction? Of course not. Then why do we do that with drinking? But if you know his or her car has an ignition interlock and won’t start if there’s alcohol in their bloodstream, then why should you educate them?

I’ll tell you why: because they’re still going to drink.

Universal ignition interlock will not solve the problem of drunk driving (for every technology created, there is another technology or some other work-around to overcome it; just look at anti-virus software) or over-consumption. Consistent enforcement of reasonable laws, coupled with effective education for all consumers and parents teaching their children about responsibility is the triple-play that will combat alcohol abuse.

Senators Udall, Corker and Schumer, I disagree. Thankfully, I’m not alone. A CBS News online poll found 69 percent of visitors who read the article about the proposed legislation said the government should not fund the development of interlock technology, agreeing with the statement, “It could be used for nanny-state overreach.”

Make your opinion heard on this issue. It’s important to your business – the implications of universal interlock are just black and white; review them at interlockfacts.com – but it’s also important to the future of whether adults in this country will consume alcohol responsibly in public, or over-indulge in private. And let me know your thoughts as well; send me an email at dcrecca@questex.com.


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