Should a Car Sharing Company Use Ignition Interlocks?

The family of a young woman who was killed in a car crash is suing the car sharing service, Car2Go, for wrongful death. Their claim: the service should have installed car breathalyzers to prevent anyone from driving drunk in their vehicles.

Women in club or disco drinking cocktailsTwo twentysomething women, Irina Reinoso and Mila Dago, were out barhopping in Miami a year ago August when their SMART car hit a pickup truck. Reinoso, who was not wearing her seat belt, was killed. The pickup driver was also severely injured.

On the face of it, the accident appears to be the fault of an intoxicated driver. No one so far has claimed otherwise. However, Reinoso’s father, Ricardo Martinez, notes that the Austin, Texas-based Car2Go markets to young people and offers cars at times and places when those people are likely to be out partying, making an ignition interlock necessary. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

windshieldCar2Go requires all members to sign documents asserting that they have not taken drugs, alcohol, or any medicine that could impair driving. For Ricardo Martinez this is not enough.

Comments on sites where news of the lawsuit appeared have been generally unsympathetic to Martinez; they tend to place the blame on the drunk driver. There is also a law on the books, called the Graves Amendment, which insulates car rental and leasing companies from liability in such situations.

However, the Car2Go model, in which a prospective driver locates a car with a smartphone app, drives it, and leaves it at the destination when he or she is done, did not exist when the amendment when passed. A judge might have to rule on whether the amendment applies in this case.

If the suit is successful, it will open up new questions about who is really responsible for protecting the public from drunk drivers. It’s not inconceivable that Ignition interlocks, the most reliable way to ensure a driver’s sobriety, will be part of the car share scene one day.