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AAA joins call for ignition devices for first-time drunk drivers

December 26, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • Caltrans workers clean up after a suspected drunk motorist crashed into an above-ground water line, sending a flood of muddy water across Pacific Coast Highway in 2010.
Caltrans workers clean up after a suspected drunk motorist crashed into… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

AAA has joined the National Transportation Safety Board in calling for those convicted of drunk driving to have special ignition interlock devices installed that would prevent their vehicles from starting if the driver is intoxicated.

The device, known as an alcohol-ignition interlock, keeps the engine off until the driver breathes into the appliance and it confirms the blood-alcohol level is under the legal limit.

Currently, 17 states require the devices for anyone convicted of drunk driving, even first-time offenders.

Saying more lives can be saved, AAA is joining the NTSB in urging the remaining 33 states, and other jurisdictions, to enact similar rules.

“Safety can be improved by requiring ignition interlock device use for all first-time DUI offenders,” said Anita Lorz, the auto club’s traffic safety and community programs manager.

“However, simply mandating the device is not enough,” Lorz said. “We need to ensure that judges actually order IID use and that there is effective oversight and enforcement to ensure offenders have the devices in place on their vehicles.”

Since 2010, California has mandated a pilot program in four counties -- Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento and Tulare --  that requires installation of the interlocks for first-time and repeat offenders. Drivers in other counties may also be required to install the device at a judge’s  discretion.

The alcoholic beverage and restaurant industries generally object to mandates dictating the use of the devices for first-time offenders but support restrictions for people who have registered exceptionally high blood-alcohol levels.

The Distilled Spirits Council and the American Beverage Institute, which represents restaurant chains, support requiring ignition interlocks for people convicted of drunk driving for the first time if their blood-alcohol content measured 0.15% or higher. A blood-alcohol level of 0.08% is generally the threshold for drunk driving.

"We believe that judges should be able to distinguish between someone who is one sip over the limit and someone who has had nine drinks prior to driving. There should not be a one-size-fits-all penalty for DUI offenders," Sarah Longwell, managing director of the restaurant trade group, said when the NTSB pushed the devices for first-time offenders this month.

Longwell also said there is a considerable expense to enforcing interlock mandates. She said that most of the states that have strict ignition interlock laws don't enforce them because of the cost.

The NTSB is making its recommendation even though traffic deaths, including those involving a drunk driver, have fallen steadily.

Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said overall traffic fatalities fell 32,367 in 2011, down 1.9% from 2010. Roadway deaths have been falling steadily for some time, the agency said, and last year's level represented a 26% decline from 2005.

Nationally, deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers took 9,878 lives last year, down 2.5% from 10,136 in 2010.

“Technologies such as ignition interlocks will reduce alcohol-related crashes on our nation's roadways,” NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said. “We look forward to working alongside AAA and its clubs to eliminate the nation’s top killer on our roadways – impaired driving.”

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