Ignition interlock laws are the key to preventing drunken driving, according to a report by Mothers Against Drunk Driving that tracks the progress states have made in requiring individual breathalyzers for some motorists.
“When I started working at MADD 10 years ago, there was only one state with the ignition interlock law and now there are 30,” said J.T. Griffin, the chief government affairs officer at MADD.
Every state has some type of ignition interlock law, according to the report released in January. The interlock requires a driver to blow into a mouthpiece that measures Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) before starting a vehicle.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia require an ignition interlock for anyone who was convicted of drunken driving. The 20 other states only require ignition interlocks for repeat offenders or have a higher threshold than the nationwide legal limit of .08 BAC to determine whether a convicted drunken driver must use the device. For example, in Pennsylvania convicted drunken drivers are not required to use an ignition interlock if their BAC is below .10.
MADD’s report rates all 50 states and Washington, D.C., on legal efforts to crack down on drunken driving.
The states with the highest ratings are Arizona, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada and West Virginia. Montana was rated the lowest; Michigan the second lowest.
There are several reasons that states are reluctant to pass stricter ignition interlock laws. For example, efforts in Montana have been thwarted by concerns over a loss of judicial discretion, Griffin said. The state, like five others, requires interlocks only for repeat offenders.
There are not enough interlock ignition providers to install and maintain the system in Montana because the state’s small population is spread out over such a large area, said Tom Butler, chief of the Montana Highway Patrol.
Montana’s 24/7 Sobriety Program has proved more effective in cutting down on recidivism said Eric Sell, the director of communications at the state’s Department of Justice.
“If you are ordered to participate in the 24/7 Sobriety Program you have to go to a law enforcement facility, blow into a machine twice a day on a daily basis to demonstrate you aren’t drinking,” Sell said. “It’s been a fantastic program in Montana.”
Griffin said there is value in legislation. “The thing that those other 20 states are forgetting is that driving is a privilege, not a right; when you get your license, you are consenting to a breathalyzer.”
MADD also supports the development of a technology in cars that would automatically prevent a vehicle from moving when a driver’s BAC is above the national legal limit.
The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program would be a safety feature motorists would opt into, like automatic braking, as opposed to a requirement for convicted drunken drivers. It would also be a more passive detection system such as a sensor.
MADD also supports research for autonomous vehicles, Griffin said.
MADD’s report gives states a rating of zero to five stars for each of five legal measures states have taken to prevent drunken driving. They target: ignition interlocks, sobriety checkpoints, administrative license revocation, child endangerment and alcohol test refusals.
“I think we still have a way to go with 10,000 people being killed every year from drunk driving, and our campaign is a blueprint for the nation,” Griffin said.
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