drinking and driving drunk driver 070407
A national road safety group is jumping into the contentious debate over which drunken drivers should be required to equip their vehicles with devices that prevent them from starting if they detect alcohol in the driver.
The issue is whether to mandate alcohol ignition interlocks for anyone convicted of DUI, or only hard-core drunken drivers and repeat offenders.
Hard-core drunken drivers are those with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15% or higher, or offenders who have been arrested before for drunken driving within the past 10 years.
State by State Penalties for First time DUI/DWI Offense
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which studied driver records in Washington before and after that state began requiring the devices for all DUI offenders, said Tuesday that requiring interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers reduces the likelihood that they will become repeat offenders.
"An interlock law that covers all people convicted of DUI reduces recidivism by 11-12%," said Anne McCartt, IIHS vice president for research and chief author of the study. "We found that the higher the rate of interlock installations, the lower recidivism would be."
The Insurance Institute said its findings should encourage more states to mandate interlocks for anyone convicted of drunken driving. Currently, 15 states have such a law. Seven states - Florida, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin are considering enacting it.
The American Beverage Institute, which represents more than 8,000 restaurants, downplayed the study. " It's actually nothing new," ABI managing director Sarah Longwell said. "As long as the interlock is in the car, there's a reduction in recidivism. But in most states, the offender only has to keep the interlock for about six months. As soon as you take it off, recidivism goes back up."
An interlock is a breath-testing device that a driver blows into before starting a vehicle. If the blood-alcohol content exceeds a preset level, the vehicle will not start.
Drunken driving deaths dropped sharply during the 1980s and early 1990s but have been trending downward more slowly since then. In 2010, 10,228 people died in drunken driving crashes, a 4.9% drop from the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports ignition interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers. A multi-year transportation funding bill now stalled in Congress includes millions in federal incentives for states that mandate interlocks for all DUI offenders.
"This study shows what we've known for several years - ignition interlocks work," said Jan Withers, MADD national president. "That's why it's so important to require all convicted drunk drivers to use these lifesaving devices.MADD will continue to work with lawmakers around the country to enact this type of legislation, in order to save lives and prevent injuries."
The American Probation and Parole Association said that "requiring ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders is an unnecessary and costly response."
The group estimates it would cost states more than $432 million to supervise offenders.
"We're not opposed to interlocks," ABI's Longwell said. "We think they're a great tool to have. We just think a judge should be involved in the decision if it's first offenders."
WFMY News 2 has been following the story of Carl Wheeler who was hit by a drunk driver and permanently disabled in July 2011. After a plea deal for the driver, the Alamance Co. District Attorney expressed that he wished NC legislatures would toughen the state's DWI Laws. Click on the video to watch the interview.