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How Effective Are Ignition Interlock Devices At Reducing Car Crashes?

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Drunk driving has been a long-running problem not only in the United States but also in many countries around the world.

For decades, governments and private organizations alike have been working hard coming up with measures to curb cases of driving under the influence (DUI).

DUI offenders are now facing harsher penalties like longer jail sentences, heftier fines, and the installation of ignition interlock devices or IIDs. Private organizations have also done their part in spreading awareness about the dangers of DUI.

So far, the number of DUI deaths has fallen by a third in the last 30 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

While DUIs and alcohol-related car accidents still happen, the reduction in DUI deaths offers a glimmer of hope. We can already see that most of the steps undertaken by authorities, including efficient interlock installation in the cars of DUI offenders, are actually working.

IIDs have been around since the 1970s, and all 50 states already have laws that pertain to their use in the fight against drunk driving. Let’s take a look at how they work and their effectiveness at curbing alcohol-related crashes.

How Ignition Interlock Works

A court can order DUI offenders to install an IID in their car. Directly wired to the ignition system, an IID is essentially a breathalyzer that requires a DUI offender to provide a breath sample before starting the vehicle.

The IID will analyze the driver’s breath, and if it detects a certain amount of alcohol in your breath, it will prevent you from starting the engine. It will only allow you to start the car if the driver passes the breath test.

Aside from the initial breath test, an ignition interlock device also makes the driver take what is dubbed as a “rolling retest.” As with the first test before starting the car, a rolling retest will require random breath samples in the middle of the drive to ensure that the DUI offender remains sober the entire time.

The Effectiveness of IIDs

Multiple studies have already shown that while ignition interlock devices are installed on the vehicle of a DUI offender, they are quite effective at reducing alcohol-impaired driving recidivism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a study conducted by D.J. Beirness and P.R. Marques in 2004 revealed that ignition interlock devices reduced DWI or DUI recidivism by at least half and sometimes more. They reached the said conclusion after summarizing 10 evaluations of ignition interlock programs in the U.S. and Canada.

Another study conducted by Jeffrey H. Coben and Gregory L. Larkin says interlock program participants were 15%–69% less likely to be arrested again for drunk driving.

Even more telling is a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who concluded that states where IID installation is required of DUI offenders saw a 7% reduction in fatal crashes involving drivers who had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% up.

To further drive the point home, the nonprofit organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD has compiled a long list of studies on the effectiveness of ignition interlocks, which includes conclusions such as:

  • States enacting all-offender IID laws see a 16 percent drop in impaired driving crashes.
  • For first-offenders, IIDs are 74% more effective in reducing DUI recidivism than simply suspending their drivers’ licenses.
  • Installing IIDs on the vehicles of all DUI/DWI offenders would lower the number of mishaps caused by alcohol-impaired drivers, according to the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB).

For now, states may vary when it comes to the implementation of ignition interlock laws. Some make it mandatory for all offenders, while some states make it optional for first offenders.

Nevertheless, the ignition interlock device has been proving its worth in the fight against drunk driving, and will continue to see more success in the coming years.

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