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April 11, 2012

Notable report on Oregon's use of technology to combat drunk driving

Gs41duii111-02jpg-974d1361a08849cbRegular readers know I am a fan of "technocorrections" generally and that I have a special affinity for the use of ignition locks as a means to respond to, and seek to reduce the incidents of, drunk driving. Consequently, I found this new local piece, headlined "Oregon turns heavily to ignition interlocks to prevent drunken driving," to make for very interesting reading. Here are excerpts:

A new state law [in Oregon] has greatly expanded the number of drivers ordered to install ignition interlocks, which are designed to keep people from driving if they have been drinking.

Use of the devices has soared across the country in recent years as legislators, spurred on by groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, adopted laws requiring offenders to install the interlocks. Congress is also considering language in the new transportation bill that would penalize states that don't adopt mandatory interlock laws.

Supporters say re-arrest rates plummet for drivers using the electronic devices while also providing a safe way for people to continue to drive to work or ferry their kids around. Offenders have to pay the costs of the equipment and it appears to be politically popular: the Oregon Legislature unanimously approved interlock bills in 2011 and 2012.

Still, the growth of interlocks has also raised plenty of doubts and criticism. The majority of drunken drivers required to install an interlock get out of the requirement, typically by waiting out their license suspensions or by claiming not to have access to a car. The problem is that most of those offenders continue to drive anyway without a license or insurance, according to several studies and experts.

It's also not clear that interlocks have a lasting effect on driver behavior. Once they're removed -- in Oregon, usually after a year -- studies indicate the recidivism rate climbs back to the same rate as offenders who never used interlocks. In addition, while Oregon expanded its interlock law, it hasn't put resources into monitoring their use. As a result, officials aren't likely to learn whether offenders have "bad blows" that indicate they've been drinking and can't start their cars.

Installers are preparing for a new rush of business after a 2011 law passed by the Legislature took effect in January. It requires offenders in diversion programs install the interlock devices for a year. Another law passed in 2012 requires the most serious multiple offenders to use an interlock for five years after getting their licenses restored.

About 10,000 people a year are placed on diversion after being arrested for drunken driving. Another 10,000 are convicted of drunken driving -- typically after a previous offense -- and are already required to use the device. The latest figures, from last July, show 3,715 interlocks on Oregon vehicles.

"We can't keep these things in stock," said David Farah, owner of BreatheCLEAN'alc-lock Systems, "as soon as they come in they're gone." Farah's Portland-based company buys interlocks from manufacturers and has deals with auto shops in Portland, Medford, Ashland and Coos Bay to install them. In Portland, he usually charges a $65 installation fee and $59 a month for the device....

Anne Pratt, who lobbies for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Oregon, said she is impressed by New Mexico's success with tougher interlock ignition laws. Over the last decade, that state's drunken driving fatality rate has dropped from being one of the country's highest to around the national average.  On a per-capita basis, more drivers in New Mexico -- nearly one out of every 100 -- use interlocks than anywhere else. "The interlock acts as a virtual probation officer riding in the front seat," said Pratt, adding that, "If you can pay for alcohol, you can pay for the installation of an interlock device."...

While companies that manufacture and install interlock devices are an important economic power behind these laws, the restaurant industry has used its clout to fight their expanded use.  The American Beverage Institute, which represents several restaurant chains, is fighting federal legislation that would boost funding for a research program to develop an ignition interlock that could someday become standard equipment on all cars.

Sarah Longwell, the institute's managing director, said that if that happens, people will be afraid to go out for dinner and drinks for fear their cars won't start when they want to go home. "We want to protect moderate and responsible drinking," she said.

Richard Roth, a New Mexico researcher and expert on interlock use, said he thinks Longwell mostly wants to protect high-margin alcohol sales in restaurants. He said the research project, known as DADSS, for Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, and sponsored by the federal government and auto manufacturers, could be a valuable addition to safety since a majority of drunken drivers involved in fatal crashes have never been arrested for the crime before.  In any event, he added, the DADSS technology "is a tremendously difficult thing to achieve and I still think it's 10 years away. It has to be so much better than what the current interlock is. It has to be like an airbag -- you don't even know it's there."

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers and advocacy for ignition locks:

April 11, 2012 at 05:52 PM | Permalink


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So here's the new model: Technologies of control are developed ostensibly for use on criminals but eventually metastasized to the whole public. Don't worry, though, "you don't even know it's there."

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 11, 2012 6:31:24 PM

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Posted by: Louis Vuitton Bags | Apr 12, 2012 3:23:39 AM

What sort of "moderate and responsible drinking" leads to safe drinking and driving? You need not get drunk to drive impaired. A couple drinks can impair some people. I'm not sure I know what is being flagged there.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 12, 2012 10:27:35 PM

"What sort of 'moderate and responsible drinking' leads to safe drinking and driving?"

It's not illegal to drink and drive. It's illegal to drive with a BAC above .08. Presumably the phrase 'moderate and responsible drinking' refers to drivers who don't reach that threshold.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 13, 2012 6:32:25 AM

That's a pretty technical reading -- "moderate and responsible" = whatever is legal. Realistically, it's a hazy line to determine what will impair someone and some are impaired even if they don't have a BAC above .08.

That's just a useful average. In fact, a quick search of my state notes "Driving While Ability Impaired (by alcohol); more than .05 BAC to .07 BAC, or other evidence of impairment. For drivers of commercial motor vehicles who are under age 21, .02 BAC or other evidence of impairment."

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Posted by: dui defense | Nov 16, 2012 5:58:34 AM

The use of ignition interlock systems has given people a chance to prove they are able to be more responsible. I know that in Arizona it is also a heavily enforced tool. These tools help people get on with their daily lives and begin to overcome the challenges of alcohol.

Posted by: Naegle Law Firm | Nov 26, 2012 12:24:17 PM

Notable report on Oregon's use of technology to combat drunk driving

Posted by: Wholesale Snapback Hats | Nov 28, 2012 10:10:40 PM

I am glad that there are laws already passed for the interlocks be put on the vehicles. I have been praying for that to happen so that people can at least be safer when riding.

Posted by: Sherri Nelson | Jan 19, 2013 10:56:30 AM

this law would beneficial to us. this should be kept and promoted.

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