Will the ignition interlock save us from ourselves?…the future. Part 2

By Linda Atkinson
Executive Director
DWI Resource Center
latkinson@dwirc.org

Will we see a day when the vehicles we drive have the ability to not start if it detects the driver is intoxicated? Maybe … Maybe not …

On Aug. 10, 2011 Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) conducted a Congressional field hearing at the UNM Law School. It was titled: “Fighting Drunk Driving: Lessons Learned in New Mexico.”  This field hearing was held for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has a bill (Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere or the ROADS SAFE Act) pending before it that would authorize $12 million annually for five years (total $60 million) to continue research and development of a Driver Alcohol Detection System (DADSS).   The goal is a non-intrusive alcohol detection system, something that requires no effort (not like the ignition interlocks convicted drunk drivers must install and require the driver to blow into the device to start a car). It’s too early to know what the technology will be; it could be anything from a system that can read a finger when it touches a steering wheel to a mechanism that detects the presence of alcohol from a driver’s normal breathing. It will not be mandatory but rather an option for new car buyers and would be set at the .08 BAC limit.

The testimony presented at the August hearing was limited to the invited official witnesses which included local, state and federal presenters. The hearing agenda is included in the testimony document and, my apologies; it contains some of my notes taken during the hearing.

What was interesting to me as I listened to the testimony was that some of the witnesses spoke the truth as they know it and others spoke the truth as was told to them and a couple spoke the truth from their first-hand experiences – particularly Chief Williams and Dr. Cameron Crandall.   They are on the frontlines when it comes to the dealing with DWI offenders and victims, from the law enforcement and medical perspective. One of the things Chief Williams said rang very true,

“The advances in vehicle safety and technology can only do so much when an impaired person decides to drive drunk,” Williams said.

Dr. Crandall spoke of the alcohol-related crash deaths and the hundreds of injuries each year in New Mexico.

“It is important to recognize the contribution that even small amounts of alcohol have in casing impairment,” Crandall said.

He summed it up with his closing statement.

“No one effort is sufficient. It is the combination of many strategies that will continue to reduce the impact of drunk driving in New Mexico,” he said.

I am a fan of the ignition interlock, however, it is not the panacea many are lead to believe. It is but one sanction levied for DWI deterrence. I have voiced my concern about the New Mexico ignition interlock law particularly because the implementation and enforcement was not really fully thought out and thought through – many of the issues and systemic changes needed were overlooked. You can read about those in last week’s blog.

I would love to see a universal remedy – a motor vehicle that prevents anyone from driving drunk or under the influence of drugs. The truth is, until we can override the human factor in driving motor vehicles we will have impaired driving – and I’m afraid DADSS (as it is proposed) won’t deliver.

I think the funding for this type of research should not come from our federal government but rather the car manufacturers as they stand to profit from sales of such technology.

Putting the $60 million federal funding into re-activating the solutions that have proven to reduce death and injury would have more far reaching results without having to rely on a hope and a prayer (and $60 million) for reductions many years from now.  Please read the Center’s comments submitted to the committee.

You can read more details of the Roads Safe Act legislation and some of the discussion at http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20010042-503544.html

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.

~Einstein~

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