As we mentioned a few weeks back, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is pushing for legislation that would force states to require interlock devices for all drunk driving convictions or risk losing out on federal highway funds. Now, with the Senate’s transportation bill including a provision directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study “more widespread deployment of in-vehicle technology,” the debate about how to monitor drunk driving is beginning to heat up.
The Senate’s transportation bill would encourage the NHTSA (through the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, a collaboration with the automobile industry) to develop “a far less intrusive” technology than interlock devices that could be made available as an option in new vehicles. While many safety advocates applaud the research provision as a great way to explore additional ways to curb drunk driving, some opponents fear this could be the first step toward mandating these devices in all new vehicles.
Similarly, both the House and the Senate versions of the surface transportation bill require that states wishing to receive the full amount of their regularly allocated safety money must force all first time DUI offenders to install an interlock device if they want to continue driving.
As we’ve discussed before, the stats do in fact back up the effectiveness of interlock devices as a deterrent to drunk driving. In Washington State, the rate of repeat offenders fell by 12 percent after the program went into effect, and in New Mexico, DUI-related fatalities decreased by 35 percent over four years after expanding the mandate to include first time offenders.
The larger question is whether or not this type of one-size-fits-all mandate is the best way to tackle a very serious problem. Since the reality is that not all drunk driving offenses are of equal severity, does it really make sense to treat a person with a blood alcohol level of .09 the same as someone who had a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher. As one critic asserts, “We treat different types of offenders differently, so we still want some kind of proportional response there.”
Additionally, the Distilled Spirits Council also opposes the requirement, saying, “We continue to strongly support the use of judicial discretion and education” for violations involving something other than “hard-core” offenders.
Despite concerns about the bill, it’s hard to argue with the statistics. In the 16 states with an “all offender” mandate, the proof is in the results. Although it will be interesting to see whether these provisions survive the debate and make it through the Senate intact, the mere act of having this conversation is unquestionably a step in the right direction.
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