Destructive Device

If Standard on All Cars, Ignition Interlock Will Hurt Your Business and Drive Us Back to Prohibition

Can a relatively small piece of technology hurt your business? In the case of ignition interlock, the answer is absolutely yes.

If you haven’t heard of them, ignition interlock devices conduct in-vehicle testing of the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and prevent the car from starting if the BAC exceeds a pre-set limit. Current interlock technology is set at about 0.02 BAC, well below the legal limit. Until recently, interlocks were installed in vehicles of repeat drunk driving offenders with high BAC levels, an application the hospitality industry supports.

In the last few years, however, a strong movement began, pushing for mandatory ignition interlocks for first-time, low BAC offenders. Twelve states require interlocks for all drunk driving offenders, regardless of BAC or number of offenses, with New York state’s law taking effect last month.

Why should you care? Well, if you have a license to serve alcohol on-premise, this little device stands ready to destroy your business. Those behind the push for interlocks for all drunk driving offenders — namely Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and legislators behind the ROAD SAFE Act — envision interlocks as standard equipment in all vehicles.

While I don’t operate a bar or restaurant, I do frequent them and like to have a drink when I do. Fast-forward a few years to a world of universal ignition interlock, and I won’t be able to do so, nor will your guests.

The business reality is a stark one for anyone with a license to serve alcohol on-premise, something the pro-interlock camp will say is just a selfish, capitalistic approach with no regard for the damage caused by drunk drivers. But think beyond that. Ignition interlock does have its place — I’m all for putting the devices in the vehicles of repeat drunk driving offenders or those with high BAC. But putting one in every car of every driver in the U.S. penalizes the majority of adults who are responsible consumers of alcohol and the on-premise licensees who serve responsibly.

Let’s take it a step further. Universal ignition interlock is one step closer to Prohibition; if you can’t drink in bars and restaurants, where can you drink? Such a law will force people to throw more house parties, where consumption goes largely unmonitored, especially among young adults.

The bottom line is that Americans will drink alcohol, no matter what; the excesses of Prohibition that led to Repeal are proof of that. When drinking in a public place is not allowed or is unacceptable, you force it back into the dark, making it more difficult to regulate for responsible consumption and more of a cultural taboo.

When drinking is a cultural taboo, we stop teaching young people about responsibility. Would you simply hand your kid the keys to the car the minute they turned of legal age to drive without any instruction? Of course not. Then why do we do that with drinking? And if you know his or her car has an ignition interlock and won’t start if there’s alcohol in his or her bloodstream, then why should you educate them at all?

I’ll tell you why: Because they’re still going to drink. Universal ignition interlock will not solve the problem of drunk driving (for every technology created, there is another technology or some other work-around to overcome it) or over-consumption. Enforcement of reasonable laws, coupled with effective education for all consumers and parents teaching their children about responsibility is the triple play that will combat alcohol abuse.

The American Beverage Institute is fighting on the hospitality industry’s behalf; check out and Your voice is crucial on this issue. Make your opinion heard by contacting your legislator. It’s important to your business and to the future of alcohol responsibility. NCB


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