Washington — Ahead of the holiday season, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday urged all states to require first-time drunken driving offenders to use ignition interlocks that prevent them from operating their vehicles after drinking.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said mandatory interlocks would “protect sober motorists and ensure that individuals convicted of drunk driving learn from their mistakes.”
All states make some use of ignition interlocks, which prevent cars from starting if the driver has been drinking. Twenty states and four California counties require the devices for all drivers convicted of driving drunk.
Michigan does not require interlocks for all first-time offenders, but they are mandatory for those convicted with high blood-alcohol levels — 0.17 or above — who seek a restricted license. Any driver in Michigan convicted twice or more of drunken or drugged driving within seven years must use the device if they seek to drive.
In Michigan, the interlocks keep the vehicle from starting if the blood-alcohol content is .025 or higher. The device also asks for random retests while the person is driving. If a driver fails three times while starting the car — or one time while driving or if the device detects tampering — it must be taken to a service center. If it is not, the vehicle will go into lock-out mode and can’t be driven. Any test failures will extend the amount of time drivers must use the devices.
Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State, said about 8,000 convicted drunken drivers must use the devices, and he said the number is rising. Last year, Michigan had more than 36,000 drunken driving convictions. Woodhams said the office is reviewing the federal guidelines and hasn’t taken a position on whether all motorists convicted of first-time drunken driving should be required to use them.
State lawmakers sent legislation this month to Gov. Rick Snyder to make the current interlock programpermanent. Initially, it was approved as a three-year pilot project.
“This program has been proven to help stop those with repeat DWI issues from committing further drunk driving offenses,” said Rep. Nancy Jenkins, R-Clayton. “By making this a permanent program, we can help to keep all Michigan motorists safer.”
Ignition interlocks typically cost about $75 to install, and drivers have to pay $50 to $75 a month in monitoring costs. Michigan doesn’t regulate the cost of the devices, but the law limits the amount that low-income drivers can be charged to $2 a day.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving strongly supports extending the use of interlocks.
MADD President Jan Withers noted that in 2012, drunken driving deaths rose for the first time in six years. “And,what is more alarming is that there was also a significant increase in drunk driving fatalities during the holiday season.”
In December 2012, 830 lives were lost nationwide in alcohol-related crashes. During the period of Dec. 21-26, 134 people died in drunken driving crashes. Additionally, over the New Year’s holiday, 140 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes.
“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,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
NHTSA has found that drivers with interlocks are 75 percent less likely to repeat the behavior than those who do not.
NHTSA is supporting the annual crackdown on drunken driving over the holiday season with a $7.5 million national advertising campaign. The agency’s message also will be featured in a new public service announcement featuring “RoboCop,” which is coming to theaters Feb. 12.
The agency and major automakers are supporting research aimed at passive alcohol detection systems that would one day prevent any intoxicated driver from starting a vehicle.