Vice Squad
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Ignition Interlocks

Yesterday I intended to say something about ignition interlock devices for cars, but I got derailed. What I have to say about them is that they are gaining in popularity, in terms of being mandated for drunk-driving offenders.

Interlock devices try to determine whether a driver is impaired; if impairment is detected, the car will not start, or, if it is already running, the car will be shut down. There are various technologies that are available (including Saab's Alko-key), but most involve having the driver blow some air into a detector. Frequent retests are required, in part to dissuade people from using surrogates to bypass the test. (Many people who occassionally drive after doing a bit of drinking might like to have such a device installed, to protect them against inadvertantly driving while over the legal limit; such people will not be interested in circumventing the control. But some people, alas, will prefer to evade a positive test and drive legally drunk rather than waiting until sobriety or other means of locomotion arrive.)

In 2005, New Mexico (following an earlier policy adopted in Maryland) required that first-time drunk driving offenders have ignition interlock devices installed, and the law was credited with inducing a fall in drunk driving deaths. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is now pushing for a similar measures nationally. In Victoria, Australia, January 1 brought in a new law that would require interlocks for young first-time drunk driving offenders.

Interlock systems do not work if they are not installed, however. It seems like that is the frequent outcome in the state of Washington, even after a court orders that an offender acquire an ignition interlock: 4,400 interlock systems have been installed in Washington, while 28,000 drivers have been ordered to obtain the devices.

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