This Saturday night, a 17-year-old Oakland driver caused an fatal accident while under the influence of alcohol. The driver, whose name has not been released because he is a minor, was arrested on vehicular manslaughter charges for the death of 22-year-old Martin Contreras. He has been busted on DUI charges before, which carries a suspended license penalty of six months for a first-time offender in California. If California had stricter ignition-interlock laws, the accident could have been avoided.

Many safety advocates hope that DUI laws will expand from reprimands in the form of fines, suspensions, and jail time, to the mandatory inclusion of ignition-interlock devices that prevent a car from starting unless the driver is under the legal limit of .08 blood alcohol content. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for one, has said it is “dedicated to supporting state legislation that expands the use of current alcohol ignition interlock technology so that interlocks are mandatory for all convicted drunk drivers in all 50 states.”

So far, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico require ignition-interlocks for first-time DUI offenders. Among other states, California is leading the charge toward heightened regulation. Drunk drivers with suspended licenses from a prior DUI are required to install the devices effective three years from the date of their conviction. And Starting this July, ignition interlocks will be mandatory for all drivers with DUI convictions in four counties, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, Alameda, and Tulare. Last October, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill promising that the law will be imposed statewide by 2016 if it proves successful. “By installing ignition interlock devices we are making it harder for DUI offenders to get behind the wheel while intoxicated and we are working to save innocent lives,” he said.

Of course, ignition-interlocks aren’t perfect. The best line of defense against drunk drivers remains friends and family who take away the keys of someone who has had too much to drink. But the new technology could be another line of defense to protect against fatal accidents like Saturday night’s.

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.