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Federal government pushes ignition interlock technology research

| May 15, 2014 | Motor Vehicle Accident

In 2012, drunk driving related deaths escalated to over 10,000 deaths, which was the first increase in more than seven years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As a result, lawmakers and automakers in the United States have increased funding on research to develop advanced ignition interlock technology. This technology would prevent anyone who has a blood alcohol level above a .08 from starting a car. Devices would be installed in all cars rolling off the production line so that serious injury and death from drunk driving would eventually become a problem of the past.

One of the mechanisms under development uses current breath analyzing technology to detect blood alcohol content. Instead of requiring a person to blow into the device to unlock the ignition, this advanced device would detect the blood alcohol content by sensing the breath of the person in the driver’s seat. Another device being developed detects blood alcohol levels through the skin with a sensor located on the steering wheel or a start button.

Currently, a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) may be installed in vehicles as a prevention tool for those who already have DUI offenses. This device will not allow the vehicle to be started until the driver has breathed into it. During the course of the drive, it requires periodic repeat tests to ensure that someone else has not breathed into it instead of the driver. Sensors detect the blood alcohol level and prevent the vehicle from starting if the levels are above the legal limit, or sound an alarm until the vehicle is shut down.

Current ignition interlock technology

Although it may take as long as 10 years to get advanced alcohol detection devices into every new vehicle, already the required installation of a BAIID in the vehicles of people who have a DUI offense has lowered repeat offender rates.

Although laws differ from state to state in the U.S., each of the 50 states has an ignition interlock law of some kind. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Washington all require the installation of a BAIID for every DUI or DWI offense. In Illinois and Colorado, the law does not mandate the BAIID for the first offense, but strong incentives encourage installation on the first conviction, including a shorter license suspension period and a reduction in fines.

Success rates of BAIID systems

In addition to preventing more car accidents, injuries and deaths, ignition interlock systems help those who have been convicted of a DUI or DWI to regain their driving privileges sooner. Re-arrest numbers are 65 percent lower when BAIID systems are installed. Since around 30 percent of all DUI offenses involve repeat offenders, this number represents a significant success rate. There is speculation that once ignition interlock technology is installed in every new vehicle, deaths from drunk driving will be reduced by more than 70 percent.