Ignition Interlock Sparks Debate

Ignition interlock continued to make headlines this week as Fox & Friends featured a debate between Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) president Laura Dean-Mooney and managing director of the American Beverage Institute (ABI) Sarah Longwell. Check it out at www.ABIonline.org.

On the legislative front, the hospitality industry continues to speak out. The federal mandate that all 50 states enact legislation requiring ignition interlocks in the vehicles of all drunk driving offenders — including first time offenders with low blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) — should be removed by the House Transportation Committee before it acts on the proposed Highway Transportation Bill extension. So said ABI’s Longwell in an editorial that appeared in the New York Times on July 28.

The mandate, she wrote, “would force every state to punish all first-time D.U.I. offenders with an in-car breathalyzer, even if they were just one sip over the legal limit. Because the average drunken driver involved in a fatal crash has a blood alcohol concentration of more than double the legal limit, the majority of states have chosen to punish those alcohol abusers with an interlock. Only 11 states require the device for low-BAC, first-time offenders. The federal interlock mandate would deny judges the ability to sentence marginal, first-time offenders and hard-core, repeat drunken drivers differently.”

The issue of ignition interlocks also is making headlines in broadcast media because of the transportation bill mandate. For example, a CBS affiliate recently aired a feature story about interlocks; check it out at www.nightclub.com.

Currently, 11 states mandate ignition interlocks be placed in the cars of low-BAC first-time drunk driving offenders; similar legislation recently has been defeated in several states.

Ignition interlocks are breathalyzer devices that test the BAC of the driver and prevent the car from starting if the BAC exceeds a pre-set limit. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a strong advocate for ignition interlock and has a stated goal of making the devices standard equipment in all vehicles. The hospitality industry’s position, as stated by associations including ABI, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. and others, is to support ignition interlock for high-BAC repeat offenders. That position is based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showing that the average BAC of a drunk driver in a fatal car crash is 0.18 percent — more than twice the legal limit.

ABI contends that the interlock mandate in the Highway Bill doesn’t target the high-BAC repeat offender; instead, it punishes the first-time offender in the same way as the repeat offender.

Editor’s Note: For the on-premise operator, this proposal has serious implications for beverage sales, as even responsible consumers will undoubtedly change their habits out of fear of having the device installed in their vehicle. What’s more, such a mandate does little to address those most responsible for drunk driving accidents — the high-BAC repeat offender.

Get involved! Voice your opinion on this element of the Highway Bill by reaching out to your representatives in the federal government today. Pick up the phone, write a letter. ABI is updating its web site, www.interlockfacts.com, to facilitate easy communication with your legislators; the application should be available in the next week.


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