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Fleets May be Targeted in Campaign to Have InterLock Devices Installed for First-Time DUI Convictions

November 20, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), backed by a national association of state highway officials and car manufacturers, announced in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20, a campaign to change drunken driving laws in 49 states to require that even first offenders install a device that tests drivers and shuts down the car if it detects alcohol, according to the New York Times. Many states already require the devices, known as ignition interlocks, for people who have been convicted several times. Last year New Mexico became the first to make them mandatory after a first offense. With that tactic and others, the state saw an 11.3 percent drop in alcohol-related fatalities last year. Chuck Hurley, MADD chief executive, said that automatic sensors might be used first in fleets, and that eventually insurance companies might give discounts on coverage to drivers who had them. New Mexico was not the only state to record a decline in alcohol-related motoring deaths, and several states showed even bigger drops. For example, from 2004 to 2005, Maryland showed a decrease to 235 from 286, or 17.8 percent. In New Mexico, which has had a chronic problem with drunken driving, state officials cited the new rule on interlocks as a significant factor in their campaign to cut the fatality rate. The rule did not take effect until June 17, 2005. Advocates for interlocks acknowledge that they are not foolproof. They can be easily circumvented if a sober person blows into the breathalyzer tube, for instance. Officials say interlocks for first offenders are not a panacea but will reduce repeat offenses. They say the next step will be a program to develop devices to unobtrusively test every driver for alcohol and disable the vehicle. The automaker Saab and a medical equipment company already have devices that may be adapted for that job. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers helped a New Mexico task force to develop its program, and supports early use of ignition interlocks, a spokesman said. So does the Governors Highway Safety Association, said its chairman, Christopher J. Murphy, according to the New York Times. Two companies have introduced products that hint at future strategies. Saab, which is owned by General Motors, is testing in Sweden a Breathalyzer that attaches to a key chain and will prevent a car from starting if it senses too much alcohol. Taxi companies and other fleet owners are the target market, the company said, according to the New York Times. A New Mexico company, TruTouch Technologies, is modifying a technique developed for measuring blood chemistry in diabetics and using it to measure alcohol instead. The appliance shines a light through the skin on the forearm and analyzes what bounces back. Future devices may read alcohol content when a driver’s palm touches the steering wheel or the gear shift lever, said Jim McNally, the chief executive of TruTouch. MADD’s first step is modeled in part on the approach taken in Canada beginning in 1991, where licenses were taken from drivers convicted of driving drunk but given back sooner if they agreed to the ignition interlock. The objective, said Andrew Murie, the chief executive of MADD Canada, is to “keep them in the licensing system, so you know who they are and where they are, keep them insured and stop them from drinking and driving,” according to the New York Times.
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