All 50 states in the U.S. have had some form of ignition interlock law on the books since at least 1993, and new research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests they’ve helped save countless lives.
According to AJPM, mandatory laws that require every person convicted of a DUI to use an interlock device were associated with a seven percent decrease in the number of fatal drunken driving crashes.
“Prior to this study, we didn’t have any evidence on whether ignition interlock laws … reduce alcohol-involved fatal crashes — which is of course the goal of the law,” said Emma McGinty, assistant professor in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Colorado School of Public Health. “So that was the big question: Do these laws work?”
Should All States Be Mandatory?
As noted in the research, the decrease in fatal drunken driving deaths was only attributable to states that have mandatory interlock device laws on the books for first time DUI offenders. Currently, only 28 states and the District of Colombia have all-offender ignition interlock laws. The other states have partial ignition interlock laws, meaning only multiple time offenders or offenders with extremely high blood alcohol contents are required to install the device. So should every state make ignition interlock devices mandatory?
The recent study suggests that even more lives would be saved if every state had mandatory ignition interlock laws. According to researchers, an estimated 1,250 lives were saved in the 28 states and in Washington D.C. between 1982 and 2013 thanks to ignition interlock devices. They also took a look at the partial ignition interlock states, and suggested the devices correlated to a smaller reduction in fatal car crashes. They say ignition interlock devices in these states were associated with a two percent reduction in alcohol-involved fatal crashes.
“It suggests the mandatory laws are more effective than the partial laws,” said McGinty.
Devices Have Drawbacks
Although they appear to reduce the number of fatal accidents on the road, ignition interlock devices aren’t without their flaws. Some complaints about the devices include:
- False positive readings
- Loss of privacy
- Expensive – Roughly $175 to install and $2.25 per day to maintain
- Government tracking
- Limited changes in driver behavior
- Another person can blow if device not equipped with a camera
While the numbers are interesting, as a criminal defense attorney who specializes in drunk driving cases, something that has become pretty clear throughout my career is that if a person wants to get behind the wheel when drunk, they are going to find a way. Whether that involves drinking while the car is in motion, buying a cheap car and not installing a device on it and hoping nobody learns about it, or by borrowing someone else’s car, an ignition interlock device can only do so much to stop a determined driver.
These devices are a good first step, but we need to really be focusing on education and rehabilitation services. We need to help people understand the issues and have them make the conscious choice not to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.