By Jim Gogek
Ignition interlock is an affront to many Americans for who believe that their car is an extension of their individual rights. Adding a device that stops people from driving whenever they want to seems downright sacrilegious. The truth, of course, is that driving a car isn’t a right at all but a privilege that can be taken away whenever the state deems necessary. The state of Kansas just took another step toward demanding responsibility of its drivers by mandating ignition interlock for all DUI offenders, including first-timers.
Ignition interlock is a tube that you breathe through before you can start your car. If you’ve been drinking, you can’t start your car. And then, at random times when you are driving, the device demands you breathe through the tube again. If you don’t, or if you’ve started drinking after you started your car, the flashers and car alarms go on until you pull over and stop the car. Research has shown conclusively that ignition interlock works very well to reduce DUI.
But many states and many judges are reluctant to use ignition interlock as a deterrence, instead only seeing it as a punishment for chronic offenders who have been caught driving drunk several times or have very high blood alcohol content. This never made any sense to me. Shouldn’t we try to prevent people from driving drunk, the most common violent crime in America, rather than just punishing them after they do it?
Recent research in New Mexico shows that first-time DUI offenders are five times more likely to get arrested for drunk driving within three years compared to people who have never been arrested for DUI. One major study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that first-time DUI offenders who get interlock on their car have a 61 percent lower recidivism rate compared to non-interlock offenders. We can stop a lot of people from being repeat DUI offenders, and save lots of lives, by mandating ignition interlock for first-time DUI offenders, and leaving the device on their cars for many years.
People who don’t read research argue that drunk drivers who are intent on driving will just find another car to drive. If that were true, then research wouldn’t show that interlock works. The truth is that it’s not so easy to find another car to drive than the one you own. Some people could, but not many. How often do any of us drive cars that are not ours?
So far, about a dozen states use interlock for first-time DUI offenders. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is pushing for all states to mandate the device for all first-time offenders (check out good FAQ here).
Really, there’s no good reason not to do this. The only thing stopping it is the phantom belief that driving a car is linked to sanctified personal freedoms. Many state legislatures and judges actually believe that.