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New Mexico turns a corner on drunk driving

The state once led the nation in alcohol-related crash deaths. But tough measures, including an ignition-interlock requirement for all convicted drunk drivers, are paying off.

July 07, 2009|Kate Linthicum

Invented in the 1970s, the interlock has been used in some form in most states, including California, since the 1980s. Although it has been found to lower the recidivism rate of drunk drivers considerably, judges typically have required it for only the most extreme repeat offenders.

When the bill to mandate the installation of interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers came before the New Mexico Legislature in 2005, Sen. Griego rose and praised the device.

Griego said he had been a drunk driver for years -- often daily. After he was convicted of his second DWI in 2001, a judge ordered him to install the device on his truck. The experience was embarrassing, he told his colleagues, but it kept him honest.

Today, there are about 9,000 interlocks in New Mexico.

Horace, who asked that his full name not be used so his boss wouldn't know of his convictions, said the interlock has been, more than anything, an inconvenience. He has learned, for example, that he must limit his drinking to six beers before midnight, lest the interlock pick up on any lingering alcohol on his breath when he tries to go to work in the morning.

"It can tell if you've had an all-nighter," he said. "But it's a good thing because now it controls me."

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kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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Interlock: How it works

When the key is turned to the start position, the interlock interrupts the ignition circuit and blocks the current needed to start the engine. It will not unlock until the driver proves sobriety by blowing into an attached Breathalyzer.

Periodically during the drive, the interlock will beep, and the driver will be required to give more breath samples. The machine logs the results of each breath test, and the records are collected and sent to the state when the interlock is serviced each month.

The offender leases the interlock from private service providers for $600 to $900 each year. It costs $70 each month to have it serviced.

Source: Times research

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