WASHINGTON — Vehicle safety leaders and the mother of a drunk driving victim urged a House subcommittee Thursday to adopt comprehensive breathalyzer legislation and support new technology to prevent drunk driving.
Helen Witty, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said MADD is pushing for legislation that would require every convicted drunk driver use an ignition interlock device. The device, about the size of a cell phone and hardwired into the vehicle, acts as a breathalyzer, requiring the driver to blow into it before the car will start.
“Often, people who have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol will still drive, even if their license is suspended or taken away,” said Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. “Interlock devices allow them to drive when they need to but stop them from putting themselves and others in danger by preventing them from driving drunk.”
Interlocks are not new devices; 32 states require drunk drivers to use them, according to the Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers Executive Director David Kelly. Kelly said interlocks cost less than $3 per day, or $60 to $80 per month, all paid for by the offender, providing “a safety blanket for the cost of a cup of coffee.”
And they have had a great degree of success: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that interlock use has reduced repeat offenses for driving while intoxicated by about 70 percent.
In January, the Abbas Stop Drunk Driving Act was introduced in the House, requiring interlocks in the vehicles of convicted drunk drivers, but is pending further action. Schakowsky said today that the subcommittee would seek further information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on its commitment to interlocks and have NHTSA testify in an oversight hearing.
The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, a research program for new vehicle-integrated tools to prevent drunk driving, is exploring two more advanced technology systems: touch-based and breath-based.
The touch-based system measures blood alcohol levels by shining an infrared light through the driver’s fingertip when they touch the starter button or steering wheel, while the breath-based system takes measurements as the driver breathes normally, distinguishing the driver’s breath from that of passengers.
Both systems would make calculating blood alcohol levels less obtrusive, which panelists said will help popularize them because they would not affect normal driving behavior.
This new technology, together with comprehensive interlock laws, Witty said should be implemented nationwide.
“I represent drunk driving victims who want this killing to end now,” she said. “Our goal is to get this technology into vehicles for consumers to purchase as soon as possible.”