Mothers against Drunk Driving Aims to Increase In-Car Breathalyzer Usage: Some Worry it will Go too Far

About 13,000 lives are lost each year to alcohol related vehicle accidents and the number of injuries is even higher.  Had the driver been unable to start their vehicle, nearly all of these accidents could have been averted.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is now working with congress to impose new laws that will increase the usage of in car breathalyzers, which some say will become mandatory for all new vehicles. 

Interlock Devices, as they are more commonly known, are usually part of the punishment that comes from being convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. The offender must pay for the installation of the device, a monthly rental fee and any other fines associated with the sentence. The device is connected to the vehicle's ignition and requires the driver to submit to a breathalyzer test before it will allow the vehicle to start. If the driver has had too much and the Interlock Device detects this, it will not allow the vehicle to operate.

The key word that many people are focusing on is "conviction." If someone decided to go out and drink before getting behind the wheel, they pose a serious threat to anyone they encounter on the road. However, what about the people who choose not to do this? Should they still be required to have one of these devices installed on their vehicle, having never been convicted of driving while impaired, without any other real option?

Several members of MADD have said this is not their intention. "An interlock device is a method by which people demonstrate sobriety by actively doing something," explained Carl McDonald. "We would never subject the population to that kind of thing by car. That's only for offenders."

What MADD is supporting is a bill in the process of being ratified that will make it mandatory for all first time DUI/DWI offenders to have one of these devices installed. Currently, 47 states enforce the Ignition Interlock Device (IID) penalty; with 8 of these listing it as mandatory for all first time offenders.

There are, of course, those who are in favor of requiring all new vehicles to have an IID already installed. They argue that as long as you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. While this is a very true statement, most people look at the interlock device as embarrassing and intrusive. This is especially true for someone who has never been an offender.

The chances of automakers having to install IIDs on North American bound vehicles are remote at best. Aside from the cost, there are studies out there that suggest the device actually increases the chance of a traffic accident.

In particular, a study done by California in 2004 suggested that although the IID was highly effective at reducing the number of DUI related traffic accidents, it also led to increased subsequent accidents when compared to drivers who had not been required to install one. The study goes on to say that: "The preponderance of evidence suggests that IIDs are effective in reducing DUI recidivism, by as much as 40-95%, at least as long as they remain installed on vehicles. Most of the studies showing positive effects of IIDs also show that there is no social learning associated with the devices, that is, once removed from the vehicle, recidivism climbs back up."

This brings up another question: Should a convicted offender be required to keep the device on their vehicle for a longer period that is currently being enforced?

The final decision on many of these issues should be made before next year.