The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- All states should require convicted drunken drivers, including first-time offenders, to use devices that prevent them from starting a car's engine if their breath tests positive for alcohol, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.
The ignition interlock devices -- already required for all convicted drunken drivers in 17 states, including New York -- are the best available solution to reducing drunken driving deaths, which account for about a third of the nation's more than 32,000 traffic deaths a year, the board said.
Drivers breathe into breathalyzers mounted on the vehicle's dashboard. If their breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the device's programmed limit -- usually a blood alcohol concentration of .02 percent or .04 percent -- then the engine won't start.
The five-member board made the unanimous recommendations after reviewing evidence that an average of 360 people a year are killed when drivers turn the wrong way into oncoming traffic on high-speed highways. In 59 percent of the accidents, wrong-way drivers had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit, researchers said. In another 10 percent of the crashes, drivers had alcohol levels between .08 percent and .14 percent. The limit in most instances is .08 percent.
The American Beverage Institute, representing 8,000 chain restaurants in the United States, said mandatory interlock devices should be reserved for "hard-core" drunken drivers and it opposes the new technology that government and industry are researching.
First-time drunken drivers with blood alcohol levels that are less than double the legal limit should be treated differently than drivers with higher alcohol levels and repeat offenders, Sarah Longwell, the institute's managing director, said.
"You don't punish somebody going five miles over the speed limit the same way you do somebody going 50 miles over the limit," said Sarah Longwell, the institute's managing director.