The Interlock at 22: A Safety Success Story 1: Birth of a Standard

The ignition interlock device has been around for a long time. This life-saving technology, which prevents drivers from starting their cars if they’ve been drinking, goes back to 1969. However, it took states quite a few years to adopt legislation that took advantage of the devices.

The first pilot programs were promising, but there were bugs to iron out: accuracy had to be improved, and authorities needed a means of preventing circumvention. That meant making the devices tamper-proof, and more ignition-interlock-device2important, creating a way to test the driver’s breath periodically during the journey — not just at the start.

Finally, authorities needed a way to monitor drivers to make sure they complied with their restrictions. Because of these concerns, many legislators were unsure that interlocks were a reliable solution.

Things changed in 1992. That year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) brought out a set of standards for ignition interlocks, outlining everything a device needs: proper sensitivity, the ability to make rolling retests (i.e. test drivers while they’re driving, and not just at the start), and recording test data for authorities to monitor.
The 22 years since the adoption of NHTSA standards have provided the USA with one of its greatest public safety success stories. Well over a dozen studies show that ignition interlocks prevent DUI offenders from re-offending, taking drunk drivers off the roads and reducing the mayhem they cause.

It’s not just the ignition interlocks that prevent thousands of drunk-driving accidents each year — it’s the laws that mandate the use of those interlocks. For these laws, we can thank many legislators, activists, law enforcement personnel and other people in public service who took on the cause of combating drunk driving.

In the next series of posts we will hear from some of the people who helped popularize, pass and strengthen ignition laws, as well as those who enforce them. If you have driven on America’s roads in the past 22 years, you might even owe your life to them.

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on the impact of the ignition interlock on road safety since NHTSA standards were laid down in 1992.

Go to Part 2 
Go to Part 3 →