NTBS:Use ig­ni­tion locks for all drunken drivers

Safety agency urges all states to be­gin us­ing de­vices.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Byjoan Lowy

WAShINGTON — Ev­ery state should re­quire con­victed drunken drivers, in­clud­ing first-time of­fend­ers, to use de­vices that pre­vent them from start­ing a car’s en­gine if their breath tests pos­i­tive for al­co­hol, the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board said Tues­day.

The ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices — al­ready re­quired for all con­victed drunken drivers in 17 states — are cur­rently the best avail­able so­lu­tion to re­duc­ing drunken driv­ing deaths, which ac­count for about a third of the na­tion’s more than 32,000 traf­fic deaths a year, the board said.

Breath­a­lyz­ers are mounted on a ve­hi­cle’s dash­board. If the driver’s breath-al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion is greater than the de­vice’s pro­grammed limit — usu­ally a blood al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion of 0.02 per­cent or 0.04 per­cent — then the en­gine won’t start.

The board also urged the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion to speed up its re­search ef­fort with au­tomak­ers to de­velop sys­tems that can de­ter­mine a driver’s blood al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion us­ing in­frared light when the driver presses an ig­ni­tion but­ton. The ve­hi­cle won’t start if the al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion is too high.

The tech­nol­ogy, which is some­times breath­based rather than touchac­ti­vated, is al­ready in use in some work­place drugtest­ing pro­grams. If the tech­nol­ogy were in­cor­po­rated into all new ve­hi­cles, even­tu­ally all drivers would be al­co­hol-tested be­fore driv­ing. That could po­ten­tially pre­vent an es­ti­mated 7,000 drunk­endriv­ing deaths a year, the board said.

The five-mem­ber board made the unan­i­mous rec­om­men­da­tions af­ter re­view­ing ev­i­dence that an av­er­age of 360 peo­ple a year are killed when drivers turn the wrong way into the face of on­com­ing traf­fic on high­speed high­ways.

The board’s study an­a­lyzed data from 1,566 crashes from 2004 to 2009, as well as nine wrong-way col­li­sions NTSB di­rectly in­ves­ti­gated. In 59 per­cent of the ac­ci­dents, wrong-way drivers had blood-al­co­hol lev­els more than twice the le­gal limit, re­searchers said. In an­other 10 per­cent of the crashes, drivers had al­co­hol lev­els be­tween 0.08 and 0.14.

The board’s rec­om­men­da­tions are likely to be strongly op­posed by the al­co­hol in­dus­try. The Amer­i­can Bev­er­age In­sti­tute, which rep­re­sents about 8,000 chain restau­rants in the U.S., said manda­tory ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices should be re­served for “hard-core” drunken drivers.

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