Feds Want Ignition Interlocks For First-Time DUI Offenders

Before you get behind the wheel after having too much holiday cheer over the next couple of weeks, be warned. There's a nationwide crackdown on impaired driving, and local police will have no trouble issuing reminders.

Along with representatives from law enforcement, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Governors Highway Safety Association, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland earlier this week kicked off the annual holiday crackdown on impaired driving.

"With the help of our law enforcement partners, we're sending a message across the country, today and throughout the holiday season – Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over," Foxx said in a statement.

At the same time, the NHTSA released new guidelines on ignition interlock programs to help states develop and implement a breath-alcohol ignition interlock program, and most notably, it calls for an interlock intervention for first-time DUI offenders.

“With the release of our model guidelines for ignition interlock programs, we're helping states improve their efforts to enforce safe driving among convicted offenders," Foxx said.

The Detroit News noted that all states employ interlocks in some fashion to keep DUI offenders from driving drunk. But only 20 states and four California counties require an interlock -- an onboard Breathalyzer-type device that keeps a vehicle’s engine from starting if it detects alcohol in the user's breath -- in the cars of every convicted drunk driver.

Strickland urged “states to adopt our new guidelines to protect sober motorists and ensure that individuals convicted of drunk driving learn from their mistakes." The NHTSA said its research shows that convicted drunk drivers whose vehicles have interlocks installed are “75 percent less likely to repeat the behavior compared to those who do not.”

Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers rose 4.6 percent and claimed 10,322 lives in 2012, compared to 9,865 the year before, according to the NHTSA. The agency added that the majority of those crashes involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher -- nearly double the legal limit of 0.08.

During last year's holiday season, 830 lives were lost in drunk driving crashes, the agency said. Over the past decade, nearly two of every five deaths (41 percent) that occur around New Year's Day and Christmas (37 percent) were because of alcohol impairment.

Last year the National Transportation Safety Board proposed lowering the national limit for blood alcohol content from 0.08 percent to 0.05 in an effort to reduce alcohol-related road deaths. But the NHTSA and MADD both declined to support the NTSB’s stance, and NHTSA said it was "premature" to recommend a lower limit because it didn't have data to support the conclusion that there would be a drop in deaths.

The campaign and accompanying law enforcement crackdown started Dec. 13 and runs through Jan. 1. It’s supported by $7.5 million in national ads on TV and radio, and NHTSA's "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" message will also be featured in a new public service announcement featuring the title character from the upcoming remake of the movie "Robocop" that will be in theaters in February.


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