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Ignition interlocks offer solution for reducing drunk driving

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The New Year’s Eve holiday means parties and get-togethers with friends…and more opportunities to drive while intoxicated.

As an emergency physician, I often see patients and families on the worst days of their lives. In April of this past year, I came closer to experiencing what could have been the worst day of my life.

On a Friday afternoon that spring, an individual with two prior drunk driving arrests, no driver’s license and a borrowed vehicle, chose once more to drink and drive. He left the highway at a curve and rumbled straight across over 100 feet of grass without braking, smashing his 6,000 pound pickup truck through the playroom wall of my son’s daycare.

Fortunately, as it was the end of the day and a warm spring afternoon, most of those in the center were either outside or near the exit preparing to go home. Some, however, were only one thin wall away from being crushed by the truck.

Since that crash, I have gone through a range of emotions. I was relieved. I was angry. However, as an emergency physician, I ultimately wanted to seek out a solution. 

As a group, emergency physicians provide care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We are always available. When our patients bring us problems, we seek out solutions. Emergency physicians seek to solve problems rather than placing blame.

Drunken driving related injuries are some of the hardest for us in the emergency department to handle. Though deaths and serious injuries related to trauma are already hard to fathom, coupling them with the senseless, selfish decision to drink and drive makes them even harder to comprehend.

But perhaps the best we can do emotionally is approach the problem of drunk driving with understanding. We should have compassion. Not just for victims and families involved, but also for the offenders themselves. Understanding the complex forces that contribute to the problem allows us to seek out proper care for those that suffer and can reduce drunk driving, and ultimately protect society.  There is evidence for practices that work.

Research aimed at identifying interventions to decrease drunk driving injuries has centered on things like early substance abuse treatment and preventing access to vehicles by confiscation or license sanctions.  Keep in mind that driving restrictions can cause hardships for those that drive to work or school and are easily ignored by offenders that would still drive in defiance of the law.

A solution that can save lives is the widespread use of ignition interlocks.  These cell phone-sized devices show promise for protecting society while allowing for authorized, safe vehicle use. Rather than confiscating the vehicle or suspending the license, drunk driving is prevented by making the offender’s vehicle inoperable by an intoxicated driver through an ignition interlock.iStock_000027344975_Large

These devices are professionally installed and require the driver to blow into the device to ensure they have not consumed alcohol before the vehicle can be started.  The devices are also equipped with safeguards to prevent the offender from removing them or going around using the device to start the vehicle.

Interlocks are supported by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the American Automobile Association (AAA) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Currently only 25 states make interlocks mandatory for first time offenders with a blood alcohol content level of .08 or higher. Other states only require an interlock if the first time offender’s blood alcohol content level was higher than .08, after a second conviction, or in some states the use can be discretionary.

A wider implementation of interlocks for first time offenders shows promise in decreasing repeat episodes of drunk driving.

These devices are a common sense intervention that can ensure those who have been found driving drunk in the past (and share the road with you and your family) are sober when behind the wheel.  The innocent public that lies in the path of potential drunk drivers, like the children at my son’s day care, deserves a common sense solution such as interlocks.

With recent incidents in the news, such as the “affluenza” teen who previously received only probation for killing four people while driving drunk, drunk driving hasn’t received the same push for change from the general public as in year’s past. I hope as a society we can come together to find solutions to such senseless tragedies.

Before you get behind the wheel tomorrow night (and any night for that matter) after drinking, consider the consequences. The safety of you and those around you is too important to ignore.

Take the next step:

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