U.S. May Require Anti-DWI Locks on Vehicles, USA Today Reports

Source: USA Today

A national campaign against first-time drunken-driving offenders is gaining ground as states and the federal government weigh mandatory use of devices requiring violators to prove their sobriety before their engines start.

Three more states have enacted laws this year requiring all violators to install devices called alcohol ignition interlocks, bringing to 11 the number of states with such rules. The instrument blocks a vehicle engine from starting if it detects alcohol on the breath of drivers.

The current version of a federal transportation funding bill, which could be debated by Congress this fall, requires all 50 states to mandate the devices for anyone convicted of drunken driving or risk losing federal highway money. Today, 47 states and the District of Columbia have interlock ignition laws for at least some offenders. Alabama, South Dakota and Vermont have no such laws.

They are installed in about 150,000 vehicles in the USA - a number that would approach 1 million if they were required for every convicted drunken driver.

Proponents of broader use of interlock systems - including MADD, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Governors Highway Safety Association - say they would save an additional 4,000-8,000 lives a year.

They point to New Mexico, which was a perennial national leader in alcohol-related crashes in 2005 when it became the first state to require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers. The interlock law was part of a campaign that has spurred a 35% drop in drunken-driving deaths there.

A federal law on interlocks is a "slippery slope," says Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant and tavern trade group. "As this creeping mentality about 'don't drink and drive' as opposed to 'don't drive drunk' takes over, you're seeing more officers inclined to arrest people" below the legal limit for intoxication, she says.

The devices place a financial burden on first offenders that might prevent them from seeking treatment, says Carl Wicklund, executive director of the Lexington, Ky.-based American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), which represents 35,000 probation and parole professionals.


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