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Legalizing the perfect drunken driving prevention device

December 17, 2009
It's a device that can prevent hundreds of fatalities a year. A device that will alter the way we think about driving. It will not only change lives, but save them.

Ignition interlock devices are like breathalyzers on your car's dashboard. Before you start driving the car, you must breath into the device. If your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level shows that you are drunk above the legal alcohol concentration limit, the car won't start. It's mindless - and perfect.

And State Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Benjamin Kramer have picked up on this. The two representatives have said that during the forthcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly, they will introduce legislation that will require the installation of ignition interlock devices in the cars of all convicted drunken drivers. Although judges are currently allowed to place these interlocks in convicted drivers' cars, they are not mandated to do so. The proposed bill would put this mandate in place and give the responsibility of interlock installation to the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), which already has almost complete responsibility of state drivers and their licenses.

When a drunk driver gets in the car, they often donít think about the consequences of their actions. As soon as he or she gets behind the wheel, they automatically put the driver and their fellow drivers in grave danger. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 152 people died in alcohol-impaired traffic accidents last year in Maryland. Most likely, more would still be here if drunken drivers had never gotten behind the wheel and in the car. Ignition interlocks are the key to reducing the numbers of these tragic fatalities.

An even more horrific, but all-too-real scenario, is that some drivers under the influence are repeat offenders. And they often don't remember that itís gotten them in trouble before too.

Herein lies the other twist in Raskin and Kramerís proposal: Even first-time offenders would be required to have ignition interlock devices. Although the penalty seems harsh at first consideration, reality makes the proposal ring true, especially given the great proportion of first-time offenders who are teens. It's a matter of deterrence, and an effective one. The Breathalyzer would measure BAC before allowing the driver to start the ignition. This precautionary measure would prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel and also deter them from driving when they know they have to be on the road, say, when driving back from a late-night party.

Raskin and Kramer's proposal is the most practical and immediate solution for making our drunken driving laws much more effective. The BAC levels that the state has already set can now be enforced, as the interlocks can be set to detect a BAC level of 0.02, the illegal level for drivers under 21, or higher, as the state or MVA deems necessary. Believing that by using interlocks, we can keep every single drunken driver off our roads, is wishful thinking. But removing more drunken drivers from our roads and thereby decreasing the overall threat to everyone is a legislative possibility that must become reality.