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Alcohol interlocks cut down on repeat DUI offenders

Consumer Reports News: March 06, 2012 04:23 PM

In 2010, over 10,000 people died in alcohol-related crashes. While that number marks a decrease, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities still account for a third of all motor vehicle deaths each year. A new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) finds laws that require alcohol interlock devices be installed in the cars of those who are convicted of driving under the influence are successful in cutting down on repeat offenders.

Researchers looked at Washington State records for drivers convicted of DUI and found that after the state expanded their interlock requirements in 2004 to include all offenders, the recidivism rate dropped by 12 percent. Only a third of the offenders installed the devices, but if all had, the rate is predicted to have dropped by almost half. Offenders got out of using the interlock by pleading guilty to the lesser penalty of negligent driving, instead. Washington has since expanded the law in 2011 so people can’t wait out the interlock period, and instead, all offenders will need to drive with the device.

The interlock is a breathalyzer-type test where a driver needs to blow into device before starting up the car. If the system detects alcohol over a certain level, the vehicle will not start. Previous studies show that repeat offenders are overrepresented in alcohol-related crashes and offenders who get interlocks are less likely to be arrested for DUI again, pointing to the interlock system as a means to help reduce accident-related deaths.

Legislation is pending in Congress to link highway funds with states that require interlocks for all DUI convictions, underscoring the value of this latest IIHS research. Opponents argue the devices should only be mandated for repeat offenders and those with blood-alcohol content (BAC) of over 0.15 percent. However, a third of impaired drivers over the legal limit of 0.08 and below 0.15 are involved in fatal crashes.

There are currently 15 states that require all people convicted of DUI to install an interlock device. Twenty-two other states require them for drivers with high BACs or repeat offenders. About 249,000 interlocks were used in 2011.

Technology holds clear promise in reducing DUI-related deaths, but it is important for drivers to be responsible. It is an old message, but a clear one that is not sinking in enough: Don’t drink and drive. Really. Don’t do it.

Government investing in touch-based in-vehicle alcohol detection devices
Guide to car safety

Liza Barth

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