The interlock device requires the driver's breath to be monitored...

The interlock device requires the driver's breath to be monitored for alcohol before a vehicle can be started and driven. Credit: AP/Justin Falls

The decline of drunken-driving fatalities represents one of our nation’s greatest policy triumphs, even though operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated spawns thousands of tragedies each year.

In 1982, 21,113 people were killed in drunken-driving accidents in the United States. By 2017 that number dropped to 10,874, thanks to stiffer penalties and a relentless social campaign. That’s a vast reduction, but we must do better.

Technology exists that could almost eradicate drunken-driving fatalities, save money and reduce accidents. We just need the will, and the passage of a bill recently introduced by Rep. Kathleen Rice of Garden City. Rice has written legislation that would give manufacturers a 10-year deadline to equip all new cars with alcohol-interlock devices to prevent operation by drunken drivers. Such systems, which detect the blood-alcohol level of drivers, already are required on the vehicles of convicted drunken drivers in many states, including New York.

A 2014 University of Michigan study found that requiring such devices could prevent 85 percent of all drunken-driving deaths, saving about 9,000 a year. That’s the equivalent of reducing the rate of gun homicides in the United States by about 64 percent. And the reduction in both fatal and nonfatal accidents would save an estimated $54 billion a year, enough to more than cover the costs, according to the study. Those opposed to mandating technology to make it impossible for drunks to drive would curse the supposed “nanny state” and argue that such devices would violate their rights.

The same argument was made about seat belts. But no one has a right to drive drunk, and everyone has a right to be free of the threat of drunken drivers.
— The editorial board