The ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, is becoming a more and more popular tool for helping enforce drunk driving laws. Now 25 states have laws requiring every convicted drunk driver – first offenders and multiple DUIs – to install the device in their vehicle to prevent them from starting if the driver has been drinking.
Some people think first-offender laws are going too far. Don’t people deserve a break? Just because someone is a social drinker who goes over the line once and gets arrested doesn’t mean he or she is a menace who needs an interlock.
This attitude reflects one of the most persistent myths in the public safety field: that DUI offenders can be easily divided into “social drinkers” who happened to be caught in an extremely rare lapse of judgment, and “hard-core drinkers” who drive constantly while impaired.
Certainly both groups exist, but this kind of careless classification ignores some truths:
- A first-time drunk driver is often more dangerous than the so-called hard-core drunk drivers. Most fatal alcohol-related crashes involve first-time offenders. Many of these are young people, never arrested, who approach both drinking and driving recklessly.
- A first-time DUI is rarely a first time drunk driver. Statistics show that first offenders have driven while impaired about 80 times before being arrested.
Drunk driving is incredibly lethal. The impaired vision, hearing and judgment, as well as diminished reaction time, can all lead to horrific collisions. When such a driver is on the road, endangering themselves and others, it doesn’t matter if they have a police record or not. They need to be stopped. Fines and suspensions do not do the job – only an ignition interlock will prevent them from getting behind the wheel while impaired.
So no, first-offender ignition interlock laws are very fair, not just to offenders, who get to keep driving to work or school, but also to society, who deserve protection from all drunk drivers – hard-core or not.