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Here’s an interesting story from the Associated Press on one way the federal government wants states, including California, to deal with convicted drunken drivers.

 

By JOAN LOWY
Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Every state should require all 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 — are the best currently 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 board also urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to speed up its research effort with automakers to develop systems that can determine a driver’s blood alcohol concentration using infrared light when the driver presses an ignition button. The vehicle won’t start if the alcohol concentration is too high.

The technology, which is sometimes breath-based rather than touch-activated, is already in use in some workplace drug-testing programs. If the technology were incorporated into all new vehicles, eventually all drivers would be alcohol-tested before driving. That could potentially prevent an estimated 7,000 drunken-driving deaths a year, the board said.

The five-member board made the unanimous recommendations after receiving a new study from its staff that found an average of 360 people a year are killed when drivers turn the wrong way into the face of oncoming traffic on high-speed highways.

The board’s study analyzed data from 1,566 crashes from 2004 to 2009, as well as nine wrong way collisions NTSB directly investigated. 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 and .14. The limit in most instances is .08.

In just the past week, 11 people were killed and 9 seriously injured in wrong-way driving accidents in eight states, the board was told.

“Wrong-way crashes shatter lives and families,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, calling the report and the recommendations a “milestone” for the board.

Older drivers also appear to be part of the wrong-way driving problem, researchers said. Drivers over age 70 were overrepresented in the accidents reviewed in the study, accounting for 15 percent of the wrong-way drivers compared with only 3 percent of the right-way drivers they collided with, researchers said.

Wrong-way driving crashes on interstates, expressways and other high-speed highways are especially deadly because over 80 percent involve head-on collisions in which vehicles close in on each other very rapidly, they said. A study in Michigan earlier this year found that 22 percent of wrong-way collisions were fatal, compared with 0.3 percent for all highway accidents over the same period.

Often the chain of events begins with drivers entering an exit ramp in the wrong direction, making a U-turn on the mainline of a highway or using an emergency turnaround through a median, investigators said.

Most wrong-way crashes — including seven of the nine accidents directly investigated by NTSB — take place in the fast lane of the highway, investigators said. The accidents also tend to happen at night and on weekends, the study found.

Reducing drunken driving is perhaps the most obvious way to reduce wrong-way driving fatalities and injuries. The board hosted a forum earlier this year on the problem of drivers impaired by alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol-impaired crashes overall accounted for nearly 31 percent motor vehicle fatalities 2010. And, that percentage has remained stuck between 30 and 32 percent of overall highway fatalities since 1995, board members said.

Safety advocates have been lobbying states to pass more laws requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, states that already have such laws on the books are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Missouri’s law does take effect until next fall. Also, four California counties, including Los Angeles, have ignition interlock laws.

“The laws may vary some, but the common thread is that they are for all first time offenders,” Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the association, said.

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Comments

9 Comments

  1. Andy Wolf

    Feds, do what the Constitution tells you to do. Provide for the national defense, control the currency, regulate interstate commerce and then stay out of our business. We have a right to self govern but when the feds take over our responsibilities and make demands on us we lose that right. We need local control of our lives and need a smaller, less meddlesome central government.

    December 11th, 2012 11:10 am

  2. Dan Drummond

    I would guess that Mr. Wolf has not felt the consequences of a drunk driver harming someone close to him. For repeat offenders, I hope they incorporate GPS technology into the defense against the drunks that can’t control themselves.

    December 11th, 2012 12:40 pm

  3. Brian Halloran

    When our collective behavior KILLS 10,000 americans every year that is a federal issue!

    December 11th, 2012 12:55 pm

  4. Fred Mangels

    Andy Wolf said it best.

    December 11th, 2012 1:20 pm

  5. Gregory Smith

    First offense, seize all of their vehicles, and do SOMETHING far more effective to keep them from driving. Make DUI an automatic FELONY offense, if you injure someone, add another felony, and make them count for the “Three Strikes”. If people faced LWOP prison sentences, they might think before they drink and drive.

    December 11th, 2012 2:10 pm

  6. John Adams

    I second what Mr. Wolf stated. I think we also need to ask ourselves if we want the Govt. to use tech to fight pre-crime. There are penalties that punish those who break the law, but shouldn’t we have the choice to break the law. Do we want governors on every vehicle to prevent people from speeding? Or cars that dont start if your not buckled in? This is a very slippery slope……

    December 11th, 2012 2:55 pm

  7. bradpipal

    Run the drugged driving programs, like the Country of China and policy on drug possession.
    Public executions of trafficking, using, and/or causing an accident.

    December 11th, 2012 4:35 pm

  8. Andy Wolf

    I’m not saying that we don’t need strict punishment for drunk drivers, we do. what I am saying is that this is state business, not the business of the feds, and that they need to butt out. We elect a legislature to pass laws in California and we don’t need some federal bureaucrats, that don’t answer to the voters, dictating laws or even getting involved where the state is clearly in charge.

    December 11th, 2012 4:49 pm

  9. Bill O. Rights

    Andy wolf…you da man! Yes, Dan and Brian, the results of DUI is horrendous. But each state is quite capable of handling it. The federal gubmint is into every area of our lives now. How much more gubmint control of your lives do you want, Dan and Brian?

    December 11th, 2012 8:30 pm

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