Everyone knows that driving while drunk is dangerous, yet every year in the United States, 900,000 people are arrested for DUI/DWI and only a third of those people are repeat offenders. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recently adopted a study finding that alcohol-impaired drivers are the leading cause of wrong-way driving crashes. With this data to support such measures, the NTSB is now recommending that all first-offender alcohol-impaired drivers have ignition interlock devices installed on their vehicles.
Ignition interlocks prevent an engine from starting until the driver provides a breath sample and the device registers the sample as lower than prescribed limits. The driver blows into a straw attached to an electronic box that analyzes the driver’s breath for alcohol content. The device is permanently attached to the car and disrupts the driver’s ability to start the car should the driver choose not to blow into the straw or should the driver’s breath register alcohol levels above a certain limit. At this point in time, only seventeen states require ignition interlocks for first-time offenders.
There have been numerous studies on the effect alcohol consumption has on driving ability. A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08 has been documented as being too dangerous to operate any heavy machinery, especially machinery as deadly as motor vehicles. With a BAC of .08, drivers experience sedation, poor coordination, and slower reaction times. Even with a BAC lower than .08, poor coordination and slow reaction times are factors when driving.
The surest way to avoid alcohol-impaired driving is to never drink and drive. It can take up to six hours for BAC levels to go from .08 to .00 and for each drink of alcohol, anyone planning to drive should wait forty-five minutes so that the body has time to adjust. That means to wait forty-five minutes per drink in order to avoid driving under the influence.
Every DUI/DWI is avoidable and while it is admirable that the NTSB is taking a stronger position against the potential for repeat offenses, it is important to remember that most DWI arrests are first-time offenses. Since drunk-driving fatalities account for nearly thirty-one percent of all traffic-related deaths, it is important to remember that driving after drinking is simply unnecessary and dangerous.
Due to changes implemented following the recent recommendations of the NTSB, could the United States follow in France’s footsteps by requiring all citizens to have handheld breathalyzers in their vehicles? Only time will tell. Until then, perhaps more states will require even first-time DWI offenders to install ignition interlock devices, keeping more drunk drivers off our roads.