NTSB: Use ignition locks for all drunken drivers

Posted December 11, 2012

— 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.

Drivers breathe into breathalyzers mounted on the vehicle's dashboard. If their breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the device's programmed limit — usually a blood alcohol concentration of .02 percent or .04 percent — then the engine won't start.

In North Carolina, only people convicted of drunken driving with a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher are required to have the devices on their vehicles. They must also pay an installation fee of at least $75 and a monthly fee of about $75 for as long as they have the device.

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.

NTSB wants ignition locks for all drunken drivers NTSB wants ignition locks for all drunken drivers

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 drunken-driving 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 high-speed 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 wrecks, wrong-way drivers had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit. In another 10 percent of the crashes, drivers had alcohol levels between .08 and .14. The limit in most instances is .08.

"Wrong-way crashes shatter lives and families," said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman, calling the report and the recommendations a "milestone" for the board.

The technologies hold "great promise to be a game changer in highway safety," she said.

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 "hardcore" drunken drivers and it opposes the new technology that government and industry are researching.

First-time drunken drivers with blood alcohol levels that are less than double the legal limit should be treated differently than drivers with higher alcohol levels and repeat offenders, Sarah Longwell, the institute's managing director, said.

"You don't punish somebody going 5 miles over the speed limit the same way you do somebody going 50 miles over the speed limit," she said.

Also, the developing technology would effectively prevent any one with relatively small amounts of alcohol in their blood from driving, Longwell said.

"This would eliminate people's ability to have a glass of wine with dinner or to have a beer at a ballgame and then drive home," she said.

Reducing drunken driving is perhaps the most obvious way to reduce wrong-way driving fatalities and injuries.

The board hosted a forum earlier this year on the problem of drivers impaired by alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol-impaired crashes overall accounted for nearly 31 percent motor vehicle fatalities 2010. And, that percentage has remained stuck between 30 and 32 percent of overall highway fatalities since 1995, board members said.

Safety advocates have been lobbying states to pass more laws requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, states that already have such laws on the books are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

Missouri's law does take effect until next fall. Also, four California counties — including Los Angeles — have ignition interlock laws.

"The laws may vary some, but the common thread is that they are for all first time offenders," Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the association, said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • ladyblue Dec 12, 2012

    if the lawmakers were as enthusiastic to punishing meth makers as they were dunk drivers we'd have a decline on meth labs and not have to worry our doctor for a prescription for a cold medicine. I think if someone is caught 2 times drunk driving without learning anything, that they will find a way around this as well. they can let someone else blow the device for them as so many do now...

  • Das G Dec 12, 2012

    Sounds like a good time to start selling bottled air.

  • jjsmith1973 Dec 12, 2012

    Sorry, emotion doesn't belong in law. I have never lost a friend or family member to DWI but have to distracted drivers and speeders. I'm fine with this as long as when a person gets a speeding ticket is monitored by the state and speed is limited on their car for the rest of their life. Breaking the law speeding or texting has the same end result as DWI, only difference is their are more accidents due to speeding and distracted driving, yet a small fine and you get to drive away. That person could have killed someone. As one poster points out it is a right and a privilege.

  • livinright Dec 12, 2012

    All convicted drunk drivers should have the ingition locks when their license have been restored. Driving is a privilege, not a right!

  • MonkeyFace Dec 12, 2012

    here's an idea.. just don't drink and drive! der

  • cn38of50 Dec 11, 2012

    As a person who lost a loved one to a drunk driver...I'm all for it! They need to also toughen the penalties for DUI/DWI...first offense - no license for 3 years, next time - no license ever again. Get caught driving without a license lost to DUI/DWI...automatic jail time (at least a year) and harsh financial penalty (Say 25% of your salary).

  • Crumps Br0ther Dec 11, 2012

    So what happens when they borrow somebody else's car. How stupid have we gotten. Lets do this, give up,all your rights to the government and if you want to do something just ask if its ok.


    If you have to have one of those things in your car you can only drive that car, your drivers licnese will have a restriction on the back stating the vehicle youre driving has to have the device. Yes you can borrow a car but if you get pulled and your not supposed to be driving that car, youre gonna have a bad time.

  • unblankenbelievable Dec 11, 2012

    And seatbelts don't protect people from from the car suddenly exploding so those are useless too right?

    Dude, you must work for the government because your so smart. NOT!

  • rdc42179 Dec 11, 2012

    So what happens when they borrow somebody else's car. How stupid have we gotten. Lets do this, give up,all your rights to the government and if you want to do something just ask if its ok.

  • Rebelyell55 Dec 11, 2012

    While I'm all for stopping someone who'll continue to drive drunk, since they don't have respect for others, I can see this as another one of those "fees" that is nothing but a revenue generator. Sad to say, the contractors will be the getting pretty rich too, more Corp. Welfare.