NTSB Wants Ignition Locks
December 11, 2012

NTSB Pushes For Ignition Locks For Drunk Drivers

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The holiday season is one of merriment and festivities, but it is also a time when people may indulge too much and still get behind the wheel. Often times it is repeat offenders who end up in such situations. Fortunately, a high-tech solution could help keep those who shouldn´t be driving from doing so, and it is getting support from the top independent US government investigative agency.

On Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board, which is responsible for civil transportation accident investigation, endorsed the development of a passive alcohol-detection technology in an effort to keep drunk drivers off the road. And it isn´t just aimed at multiple repeat offenders, but anyone who has been involved in an alcohol-related incident.

In a recent study on wrong-way driving crashes, the NTSB cited alcohol-impaired driving as the leading cause of those collisions and recommended that all first-offender, alcohol-impaired drivers be required to have ignition interlocks installed on their personal vehicles.

About 300 people die in wrong-way driving accidents on American highways each year and 60 percent of those mishaps reportedly involve drunks behind the wheel, reported Marketwatch.

“The first step to address the number one killer on our roadways is to do what is proven to be effective - use interlocks for all DWI offenders,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman in a statement.

Not everyone is in favor of punishing so-called “first offenders,” however. This technology and its requirements with first-offenders has been opposed by the American Beverage Institute, a Washington-based trade organization that represents beverage suppliers and restaurant chains. The group, which is run by public relations executive Rick Berman, has reportedly suggested broader interlock requirements could reduce alcoholic beverage sales at restaurants.

Despite this criticism from the trade body, the highway bill passed earlier this year enables the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to offer grants to those states that have laws, or to those that will pass laws that require ignition interlocks for drivers after their first driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) offense. Currently 17 states now have laws that requiring them.

Previously the NTSB had only recommended ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers with high blood-alcohol levels.

The change in recommendation came following a study of accidents involving wrong-way drivers, which included entering a highway on an exit ramp or veering into the opposing lane of traffic. The study concluded these crashes usually occur at night or on weekends and kill an average of 360 people each year in 260 accidents. The study analyzed 1,566 fatal wrong-way crashes that killed a total of 2,129 people and focused on wrong-way accidents in California, Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Collisions the board had investigated in detail involved 17 passenger vehicles, two buses, one church activity bus and four heavy vehicles.

Two common threads further found in the report were drivers impaired by alcohol or elderly drivers. Drivers at least 70 years old were involved in 15 percent of the accidents in the studies.

While current systems now involve interlocks that require a driver to blow into a tube — a system that can unfortunately be easily defeated, there are other projects in the works that are being funded by automakers and involve passive systems that could measure a driver´s blood-alcohol content through fingertip sensors on the steering wheel or through ambient breath measurements.

“Technology is the game changer in reducing alcohol-related crashes on our nation's roadways,” Hersman added. “Achieving zero alcohol-impaired driving-related deaths is possible only if society is willing to separate the impaired driver from the driving task.”

In addition, the board further recommended state and local officials improve signs around highway ramps, particularly those at T-intersections, rather than cloverleaf exchanges. The board also urged GPS devices to have alerts when drivers enter roads while going the wrong way.