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Opinion

New Year's resolution: Stop drunk driving with ignition locks

The New Year’s holiday contributes more alcohol-related traffic fatalities than any other day of the year. We challenge states to join our New Year’s resolution and require ignition interlocks for all those convicted of drunk driving. These devices work.

By Robert L. Darbelnet and Deborah A.P. Hersman / December 31, 2012

The New Year's eve ball rises over Times Square in New York, Dec. 30. Op-ed contributors Robert L. Darbelnet and Deborah A.P. Hersman say 'drunk drivers were responsible for more than half of [New Year's Day traffic] fatalities,' and all year, it's 1 in 3. But ignition interlock devices for convicted drunk drivers 'can reduce repeat offenses by a median of 67 percent.'

Keith Bedford/Reuters

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As Americans prepare to ring in the New Year, the National Transportation Safety Board and AAA are calling on states to resolve to prevent needless injuries and deaths by requiring ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers. This is a fitting resolution given that people are more likely to be killed by a drunk driver on New Year’s Day than any other day throughout the year.

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The New Year’s holiday consistently contributes the highest proportion of alcohol-related traffic fatalities compared with any other day of the year. Last year, 122 people died in car crashes on New Year’s Day, and drunk drivers were responsible for more than half of those fatalities.

While drunk driving receives significant attention as the nation celebrates the end of the year, the dangers of impaired driving are serious every single day. In 2011, for example, there were 9,878 fatalities in crashes involving a driver with an illegal blood-alcohol content level of 0.08 or higher, accounting for 1 out of every 3 traffic fatalities. That’s an average of one death every 53 minutes.

Authorities are doing their best to curb drunk driving with the tools made available to them, but they are falling short. Police officers arrested 1.4 million people for driving under the influence in 2010, a rate of one arrest for every 149 licensed drivers in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that many first offenders have driven drunk many times before their first arrest. And about one-third of those arrested have been convicted at least once before for driving while intoxicated.

The most common methods used by the legal system to prevent a second drunk driving offense include longer sentences, limitations on plea bargains, referrals to treatment programs, and license suspensions. While these options have benefits and work for some offenders, their impact is limited because they do not separate the behaviors of drinking from driving.

It is time to implement a proven method to prevent recidivism by requiring the use of ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers, including first-time offenders. This is the most effective option available for ensuring that alcohol consumption does not mix with driving for those most likely to drive drunk again.

Ignition interlock devices require a driver to blow into the device and register a sober blood alcohol level. If the driver has been drinking and is unable to pass the breath test, the car will not start, which prevents the motorist from driving while impaired.

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