Ignition device could reduce DWIs

Breath analysis tools have been particularly effective in reducing repeat offenders.

In 2004, there were more than 46,074 arrests in Minnesota for DWI (driving while intoxicated). This is expected to increase by about 2 percent per year as a result of the change from 1 percent to 0.08 percent in the alcohol-blood percentage that is the legal limit when driving. There were 177 deaths in Minnesota in 2004 in alcohol-related accidents. Since 1995, there have been 2,000 deaths in alcohol-related accidents, an average of 200 per year, and tens of thousands of physical injuries, according to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving report.

Minnesota can reduce the number of repeat DWI offenses by 65 percent by the use of ignition interlock systems. An ignition interlock system is a combination of a breath analyzer and ignition lock. Thirty-nine states, including Minnesota, have laws that authorize the use of ignition interlocks.

A vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock system will not start until someone breathes into the breathalyzer. If the alcohol percentage in the air blown into the analyzer exceeds the preset level, such as 0.08, the vehicle will not start. Combining fingerprint and voice identification with air analysis will make it virtually impossible for a restricted driver to evade using the ignition interlock system.

Ignition interlock devices have been very effective in sharply reducing repeat offenders of the crime of driving while intoxicated. A 1999 study entitled: “Effects of Ignition Interlock License Restrictions on Drivers” of 1,387 multiple offenders who participated in an ignition interlock program found that: “Participation in the interlock program reduced offenders’ risk of committing an alcohol traffic violation within the first year by about 65 percent.” The study concluded: “Ignition interlock license restriction programs are effective at reducing recidivism among drivers with multiple alcohol offenses, at least while the restriction is in effect.”

If used extensively, ignition interlock systems could substantially reduce the thousands of cases annually in Minnesota of injuries and deaths because of intoxicated drivers, as well as the millions and millions of dollars spent for medical care and vehicle repair or replacement. It is possible that a comparable device will prevent instances of driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.

Current Minnesota law does not permit a judge to require the use of an ignition interlock system or permit a defendant to substitute use of that system for some of the penalties imposed for a DWI offense. State Sen. Steve Murphy of Red Wing, Minn., is drafting a proposed law to consider the potential benefits of ignition interlock systems.

In addition to sharply reducing DWI offenses, ignition interlock systems could offer benefits that would lead people to install them in their vehicles voluntarily: They could prevent car theft or make it much more difficult, and insurance companies might offer discounts if the insured vehicle has an ignition interlock system.

Dale Nathan is author of “Minnesota Injustice, True Court Horror Cases – With Names.” Please send comments to [email protected]