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Study: Breathalyzer Systems Work In Fighting Drunk Driving

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On: Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 10:43AM | By: Chris Weiss

Study: Breathalyzer Systems Work In Fighting Drunk Driving

According to a new study, ignition interlock systems, which require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer before starting their cars, are effective at cutting the number of repeat offenders. Some jurisdictions require that those convicted of drunk driving install interlock systems in their cars, and the study took a look at the results in one such location.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted its research in relation to Washington state, where interlock systems are mandatory for anyone convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). It looked at DUI conviction records from January 1999 to June 2006. In 2004, Washington expanded its mandatory interlock law to include everyone convicted of DUI. The original 1999 law included only repeat offenders, high-BAC offenders, and those who refused an alcohol test. So the IIHS was able to study the law's effect on first-time simple offenders, noting a 12 percent decrease in repeat offenses in the second quarter of 2006 over what would have been expected without the interlock requirement.

Researchers believe it could have been as great as a 50 percent decrease, but only about a third of those affected had followed through with installing interlock systems. Washington has since taken more legislative action to enforce the installation requirement.

While many of those convicted didn't get interlock systems, the number that did increased during the study period. The 33 percent figure represents a rise from 5 percent before the mandatory interlock law.

Interlock systems connect with ignition hardware and require the user to do an alcohol test prior to starting the car. If their blood alcohol level exceeds the preset level, the system cuts off the ignition so the car won't start. In theory, the interlock system is an effective tool for ensuring that someone who's been drinking cannot operate a vehicle, and this study indicates that it works in real life.

According to the IIHS, 14 other states have laws like Washington's on the books, and 22 states require interlock systems for DUI repeat offenders and/or those whose blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeds a certain number. Legislation being considered by Congress would encourage states to institute laws like Washington's, requiring all those found guilty of DUI to install systems.

"This report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides strong validation for MADD's Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving and our efforts to require all convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device," says Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in IIHS' press release. "We will continue to work at the state and federal levels to ensure that all Americans are protected by comprehensive and lifesaving interlock laws."


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