by: Craig Howie | AOL Autos

    Each year, 13,000 people are killed by drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level above .08. Advocates of a new standard for in-car breathalyzers say that most, if not all, of those accidents could have been avoided if the drunk driver hadn't been able to turn his or her car on. If Congress and Mothers Against Drunk Driving get their way, could your next new car could come with a breathalyzer pre-installed?

    Much confusion surrounds in-car breathalyzer devices for those convicted of a DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while impaired), their nationwide rollout and several bills going through Congress on the matter. Some predict we'll all be driving a car with a similar device in future -- guilty or not -- whereas some say that the way lawmakers are going, that ultimately sobering future isn't too far away. We aim to separate the facts from the fiction.
    The nationwide picture
    Some 47 states currently have in-car breathalyzer laws where a driver convicted of DUI or DWI may be forced to install an "interlock" device, connected to the ignition, that monitors the amount of alcohol on a driver's breath and prevents the car from starting with a positive reading. An interlock device is mandatory punishment for a first offender in eight states, including New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois and Washington. Only three states -- Alabama, South Dakota and Vermont -- don't impose interlock penalties. Convicted drivers are expected to pay for the units, their installation and a monthly rental fee on top of the fine for DUI. Currently, about 140,000 of the devices are monitoring convicted drunk-drivers nationwide.  

    Controversy, and some confusion, has emerged recently over proposals to give federal money to manufacturers to build in devices that prevent operation if the driver is under the influence. A new bill, backed by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, would allocate $12 million to car makers to bring forward technologies that sense alcohol in a driver's breath or contained in their sweat. The proposals says this could be done by picking up on sweat when the driver holds the steering wheel.     

    Local, national advocates

    Carl McDonald, of MADD, is quick to point out that while the campaign group is in favor of mandatory interlock penalties in all cases of DUI or DWI, or for about 1.5 million Americans convicted each year; the group is not in favor of a rollout of breathalyzers in every new car.

    "Some say that MADD is in favor of putting interlocks in every car," McDonald said. "This is not the case. An interlock device is a method by which people demonstrate sobriety by actively doing something. We would never subject the population to that kind of thing by car. That's only for offenders."
    Citing "remarkable progress" in the number of states signing into law mandatory interlocks for all offenders, he says the law is an "easy sell to lawmakers" -- even in the face of opposition from states' rights groups. He adds that safety legislation on airbags and seat belts also became a federal issue and puts a timeframe of about ten years on a majority of states adopting, and enforcing, an interlock law for all offenders.

    "What happens in real life...there are people who have been arrested and convicted of drunk driving," McDonald said. "Following that conviction they were suspended. People we know violate those laws repeatedly and they may have been picked up repeatedly. We know they're driving without insurance and often intoxicated. We want to make sure that if they're driving at all, they're driving sober."

    New Mexico was the first state to mandate interlock installation for first-time DUI offenders and its governor, Bill Richardson, recently announced a partnership with MADD to expand the program. Chiefly this involves a public relations campaign aimed at state lawmakers and persuading congressional representatives of the merits of withholding federal highway funds from states that do not mandate the interlocks for first offenders.

    Rachel O'Connor, New Mexico's DWI "czar," says since the law's 2005 inception, the state has seen a "35 percent reduction in alcohol fatalities," which she attributes to New Mexico's interlock mandate serving as a "deterrent" as well as the state's "increased enforcement, working with bars and restaurants, public awareness campaigns and increasing funding for drug programs."  

    Voices against

    Jim Baxter, president of the libertarian-leaning National Motorists Association, is of a different opinion.

    "Many of our members are against Congress imposing dictates on the states," said Baxter. "We think the courts are in the best position to make the decision.

    Should cars have built-in breathalyzers?

    "California, back in 1990s, passed legislation requiring ignition interlock devices for people convicted of DUI. They found that when they compared first-time violators who put those devices in their cars, they had significantly more accidents than those that did not. The whole idea of why you have DUI laws it to prevent accidents, so why would you promote a strategy that increases accidents?"

    Baxter refers to a study commissioned by California in 2004 that states: "Drivers installing an IID [ignition interlock device] have a lower risk for a subsequent DUI conviction than drivers not installing an IID, indicating that the IIDs prevented DUI recidivism, as designed. However, on the important traffic safety issue measure of crashes, drivers installing an IID had a higher risk of subsequent crash than did drivers not installing an IID."

    The study adds: "The preponderance of evidence suggests that IIDs are effective in reducing DUI recidivism, by as much as 40-95%, at least as long as they remain installed on vehicles. Most of the studies showing positive effects of IIDs also show that there is no social learning associated with the devices, that is, once removed from the vehicle, recidivism climbs back up."

    Future trends

    Russ Rader, at the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, says his group backs the notion of interlock devices.

    "The institute strongly supports interlocks for first-time offenders," he said. "Studies show lower rates of recidivism when an interlock device is installed.

    "There is also a cooperative venture underway involving motor vehicle manufacturers, the federal government, and the institute to oversee development of advanced in-vehicle detection technologies that would be suitable for all drivers, not just convicted offenders.

    "The goal is to have a device that can quickly, accurately, and unobtrusively measure [blood-alcohol content] through sensors in the steering wheel or devices that measure ambient air in the vehicle."

    Wade Newton, at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says his group backs the measure for mandatory interlock installation for first-time offenders, alongside a further measure that seeks to increase funding for research into "non-invasive" devices.

    Though the research is at an early stage, Newton says group members that include Ford, GM, Toyota, BMW and Mercedes are looking at "ways to measure alcohol content through skin or perspiration or a light off a driver's retina, so drivers don't know it's happening.

    "It could be a steering wheel or brake shift or door handle where the skin would come in contact. It's important to be non-invasive so it doesn't hassle the sober driver."

    Legal matters

    Dan Jaffe, a DUI lawyer and owner of DUIatttorney.com, says he believes there is a crucial difference between a first-time, perhaps accidental offender and a habitual drunk-driver caught for the first time, a factor that mandatory imposition of an in-car breathalyzer may gloss over.

    "It depends on facts of case," said Jaffe. "Is it a first offense where a person is barely above it, or a first offense where person is four times over the limit? Someone has three beers and makes a mistake and somebody who has 20 beers and finally gets caught?"

    He says inability to pay for the device may result in a total ban from driving depending on where you reside. To drive legally In Arizona, Jaffe says, a convicted driver must pay for the device's installation and monthly rental fees, which can each top $75. In New Mexico, the state covers 50 per cent of the total cost for impoverished or unemployed drivers, which is taken out of fines paid by previous DUI offenders.

    "I do have a feeling that they prevent a lot of people from getting DUIs," Jaffe said. "But I have seen a lot of cases where the person has it and they're fine, then [when it's removed] two or three weeks later they're arrested.

    "My perspective is, if a device in my vehicle prevents me from driving [over the limit] and it just sensed it -- something I didn't have to blow into -- I wouldn't mind it as I don't drink and drive anyway, and as long as the thing doesn't malfunction and cause me inconvenience. But everybody I've talked to hates [the interlock device]. They think it's embarrassing and a burden and expensive and intrusive."

    What are your thoughts on interlock devices? Should cars have them installed so that the roads are safer, or is this too much an invasion of our privacy?

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    1 - 20 of 1048 Comments
    superiorpm Nov 23, 2010 4:48 PM
    I've thought for a long time that if we as a nation are serious about preventing drunk-driving accidents, this is exactly what should be required. The equipment should be standard on ALL trains, planes, and automobiles. (Well, maybe just cars and trucks)
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    jazzitup5 Jun 03, 2010 12:21 PM
    I think it is a great idea. Everybody should have one. I have an IId in my car. Because of two dui's in 2002 and 2003. It is suppose to stay until I finish my 18 month class. Which is turning into a 4 year program for me. I have a child who has health issues. And it is just the two of us. So needless to say I miss alot of my classes. And that cost me another 20 dollars every time I miss. Unless I have a doctors note. Two years ago I bought this nice sporty car. Not knowing every hoop I was going to have to jump , through. I had not had a car for 4 years. So living here in the desert. With my 4 y/o daughter I told the DMV I would do whatever it takes, to be able to drive. Since I had just paid 8 thousand dollars for this car . While I was on my lunch break, from jury duty. Anyway sorry to drag this on and on. My point is, it still is costing me 300.00 a month to drive. Car insurance, Dui class, and 86.00 for the blower and 20.00 round trip gas every month to Riverside to get it calibrated. i finally decided to get sober, but I have had a couple slips. And thank GOD, I have that blower in my car. I would consider keeping it forever, If it did not cost so much. Maybe 20.00 a month. Maybe this long comment I left, will help somebody else see that it is not worth it !!!!!!!!!!!1
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    trmaietta Apr 27, 2010 7:26 PM
    yes i know young kids who keep getting caught and its just to fine them and punish them, and give them records, instead of stopping ******* a shame the laws arent set up to help someone but to make money off them
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    trmaietta Apr 27, 2010 7:23 PM
    absolutely, it would save lives, and whats more important than someones life.!!!!!!!!!
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    blorren Apr 02, 2010 10:37 PM
    I'm not sure why the word we use to describe when an airplane goes from one place to another through the air was bleeped out, but whatever.
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    blorren Apr 02, 2010 10:36 PM
    Absolutely they should. And anyone that flies on a plane needs to be strip-searched (don't forget the body-cavity search, people could hide bomb-making material in there), and chained naked into individual cages during their ************* the only way to keep people safe. If it saves just one life, it's worth it. Who cares if it inconveniences millions of people that never drive drunk (or intend on bombing planes). It also doesn't matter how much it costs, even if it makes cars and plane flights unaffordable. After all, it could save a life. (I'm being sarcastic)
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    xd00000000046327 Apr 02, 2010 1:47 AM
    I would like it if a car came with a breathalyzer, but it was something that I could control and activate it if i wanted it, or leave it deactivated if I didn't want it. me personally, I would activate it just in case I went out and was over the limit, would be nice to know, and stop me from driving.
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    ironhead387 Apr 01, 2010 10:37 PM
    If the breathalizer in a car saves just one life it is well worth it. And Johnny Knotts you'd have to drink 4 bottles of mouthwash to get enough alcohol to set of the breathalizer. and if you drink 4 bottles of mouthwash we won't have to worry about you driving a vehicle you'll be dead.
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    johnnyknottsmd Feb 24, 2010 8:56 AM
    I would be all for it if if wasn't government controlled. I have a friend that had one for a year. It was part of his probation. He was at a halloween party and was drinking and got a Dui. He doesn't drink much and this is his first dui and he didn't have an accedent. He was just out too late and was going home. He didn't kill anyone or run over anything. He got pulled over just because he was out late. He blew an 08 the first time and a 07 second. 08 is the so called legel limit in this state. I think that is something like a beer an hour.His license was suspened before he even went to court. That is what you call guity until proven inocent. And now his life is messed up. He was a truck driver for over 20 years and had a clean record until now. Now his cdl is messed up he can't get a job. he has a wife and three kids to feed. His insurance went up. He can't drive at all until he had this government controlled device installed on his car witch cost him $50.00 a month. It recordes everthing you do while driving. I don't know about you but I am not for government control. Luckily my friend survived it. He lost his wife and kids and is now homeless but he is still in the fight against world government
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    snbm63 Feb 23, 2010 4:44 PM
    if a vehicle won't start the safety of others would be greatly incress and a reduction of accidents would save lives.
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    butterflyb1116 Feb 23, 2010 10:02 AM
    i dont think that all cars should have breathalyzers, i think whomever was caught driving under the influence should have one, and that part of the fine of this crime could be used to install it in there car.
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    sapereaud33 Feb 18, 2010 2:15 PM
    Yes of course all cars should have these and also they should put in a device that doesn't let you go above the speed limit or break the V&T law in any way or let you start the car if you have a head light out. "Those who would trade essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither and will lose both." ~Jefferson
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    gr8bsn Feb 17, 2010 3:33 AM
    Here's a better idea, instead of punishing every driver on the road (including those who never drink), how about making the penalties for drunk driving much stiffer. Even better, how about making it harder to get licensed in this country, as opposed to letting anyone with a pulse and $25 get behind the wheel. It would take at least 50% of the jackass drivers off the road, free up traffic, and make everyone safer. The day they force automakers to put these interlocks in new cars is the day I start driving old cars.
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    lafm2005 Feb 15, 2010 11:53 AM
    A drunk behind the wheel of a run away Toyota. What could be worse.
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    vmwaide Feb 15, 2010 10:44 AM
    I've had two DUI convictions. I can honestly say that the system is not set up to prevent DUI/DWI. Instead the various municipalities make too much money catching people driving drunk. There's no money in preventing it. I've thought for a long time that all new cars should be required to have an interlock device installed at the factory, and more efforts be made to provide safe rides home for intoxicated people.
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    johnnyknottsmd Feb 14, 2010 10:51 PM
    this device will only help the government to spy on you. they can already listen to your phone calls and read your email without a warrent. now they want to know what you are doing in your car. people please wake up
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    johnnyknottsmd Feb 14, 2010 10:41 PM
    this device does not save lives. Don't be fooled. it is just another way for the government to spy on you
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    johnnyknottsmd Feb 14, 2010 10:36 PM
    Just think where did this come from? Did anyone vote on it?
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    mdublasio Feb 14, 2010 10:35 PM
    The entire drunk driving industry has become centered not on the prevention of loss of life and eliminating avoidable accidents, but on the Billions of dollars that local police and municipalities collect from their uneven and in my opinion at times illegal enforcement of the current drunk driving laws. Take Dui check points for an example. Guilty till proven innocent what other impression could you have when you and your family are stopped when no law has been broken? Or what about the police officers that lies in waiting outside bars and marks the tires of patrons to gauge how long each patron has been drinking. And then follow them looking for not even a minor infraction but anything they use to justify probable cause. I say a device like this should be in every car produced today. Think about it... a device that prevents people from acting stupid when they are most prone to act stupid. Eliminate the crime with technology and you eliminate 10's of Billions of dollars it costs the American tax payer now. Those of you who think you don't pay for it now ask yourself how much of the cost of each meal or drink that you purchase in a bar goes toward the cost of liability insurance. Or how much of the money you spend on automobile insurance goes toward offsetting the cost drunk driving related accidents. How about the millions of lost lives that could be saved by such a device. I fear it won't happen for sometime though the benefactors of the current dui related income stream will not want to let go their cash cow without fight. I hope I am wrong.
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    johnnyknottsmd Feb 14, 2010 10:34 PM
    Did anyone vote for this? or is this just another government thing that they think we should have. You people need to think and get rid of all the people running this government they are just out to control you not help you.
    Report This
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    Should cars have built-In breathalyzers? Interlock Devices could be mandated in future vehicles.


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