Old Technology May Help Prevent Drunk Driving


The answer to ending repeat drunk driving offenses and creating more safe drivers may be a device that’s been around for more than 20 years, according to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The study, which focused on drivers in Washington State, found that installation of a so-called “interlock” device on the vehicles of those convicted of drunk driving might be able to lower the rate of repeat DUI offenses by about half.

An interlock, also called an alcohol interlock, is a machine that acts like a breathalyzer. The device requires a vehicle’s driver to blow into it in order to start the vehicle. If the driver has a blood alcohol content higher than a pre-set level, the vehicle won’t start. The authors of the IIHS study say that their findings aren’t unusual, and that other studies have found that interlock devices lead to fewer repeat drunk drivers.

Nationwide, the number of impaired driving accidents and deaths fell in the 1980s and 1990s, but has remained fairly steady since those earlier drops. In 2010, nearly 450 South Carolina drivers died in drunk driving accidents. This number becomes even more disturbing when you consider that number along with the total number of people killed in accidents in S.C. that year. According to IIHS figures, 810 people died in accidents during 2010–which means that drunk drivers accounted for well over half of the deaths on South Carolina roads.

South Carolina has required some drivers to install interlock devices–which the state calls an Ignition Interlock Device (or IID)–since 2008. According to the SC Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services (which oversees the program), IID devices may be installed in the cars of drivers who have been convicted of at least a second DUI offense, who have completed the license suspension period and who have also finished an alcohol education program.

According to the IIHS, Congress is debating legislation that would tie each state’s highway funds to an interlock requirement for all DUI convictions. Not everyone is in favor of using the devices in all drunk driving cases. Some opponents want the devices limited to those with convictions that show an alcohol content of .15 percent or more. The study authors disagree with this proposal, however, since that threshold would leave out about one-third of people convicted of drunk driving.


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