Ex-Astronaut Driving With Ignition Interlock

astronaut driving with ignition interlockFewer than 600 humans have gone into space. One of the people to earn this distinction has been astronaut James Halsell Jr., a veteran of five space shuttle missions.

When an astronaut’s career is over, he or she must be resigned to staying earthbound once again. But Halsell’s movements will be even more restricted.

In September, James Halsell caused a crash in Tuscaloosa County that killed two young girls. He was charged with reckless murder as a result. He had previously been involved in another DUI crash. Halsell has pled not guilty to the reckless murder charge.

In Alabama, “reckless murder” is a charge that arises when a person engages in actions which create a serious risk of death to another person, and this reckless behavior ultimately causes the death of the person in question.

As a result of these crimes, Halsell will be prohibited from consuming alcohol, and will have an ignition interlock installed on his vehicle. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

As an astronaut, Halsell had been working with technology that represented the cutting edge of liberation: he piloted a craft that could escape the gravity of earth and allow people to work and advance human knowledge in the hostile vacuum of space.

On earth, he now relies on another kind of technology: the kind that was invented to protect society from those who make the decision to drink and drive.

Ignition interlocks were developed because it was found that, despite fines, jail sentences, and other countermeasures, recidivism was a constant problem with drunk drivers. At present, that percentage is about a quarter, down from 31 percent in 1995.

If a 25 percent recidivism rate seems low, consider that each year about 1.5 million people are arrests for driving under the influence.

Some technologies, like those in the shuttle, lead to new frontiers of exploration. Others, like the breathalyzer technology in an ignition interlock, just keep us safe so that more of us can live to see another day. We’re grateful for both kinds of technology, the kind that enriches life, and the kind that merely saves it.