CBS News on Ignition Interlock Laws:The Full Story

A recent CBS news report offered news that isn’t exactly shocking: drunk driving is still a problem. The report, investigating New York State’s DUI landscape, did provide a more interesting revelation: most repeat drunken drivers are not installing ignition interlock devices, despite the fact that they are required by law for all DUI offenses.

NYPDThis is important news, though the report does not tell the full story.

A Queens prosecutor notes, for example, that there are people teaching drunk drivers how to circumvent the devices. However, work-arounds like filters (to scrub one’s breath) and hair dryers (to imitate blowing) do not work, as ignition interlock devices in almost all states include a camera in the vehicle as well, to monitor the driver’s testing procedure.

The article’s conclusion, however, is right on the money: “Experts agree the devices work but say the law needs more teeth.”

The facts:

  • Ignition Interlocks work when installed. Studies show that drunk driving fatalities fall in states that mandate ignition interlocks. Drivers who have interlocks installed cannot drink and drive those vehicles. As a result, the roads are safer in states with ignition interlock laws.
  • The laws do need strengthening. Some states allow offenders to “wait out” the suspension in lieu of having an interlock installed. A better approach, like that used by New York and Washington State, keeps an interlock requirement from expiring indefinitely; offenders can never get a license until they have driven for the requisite period with an ignition interlock.

If almost three-quarters of DUI offenders are not installing an ignition interlock when required, then the fault is not with the devices; there is a severe compliance issue that needs to be addressed by the states. Lawmakers now have a tool to reduce the harm that drunk drivers do on the nation’s roads; they need to pass stronger laws and promote better procedures to make sure that this tool is put to use.