The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that every US state should require all convicted drunken drivers, including first-time offenders, to use ignition interlock devices.
According to the NTSB, the ignition interlock devices — already required for all convicted drunken drivers in 17 states — are the best solution currently available to reducing drunken driving deaths, which account for about a third of the nation’s more than 32,000 traffic deaths a year.
The board also urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to speed up its research effort with automakers to develop systems that can determine a driver’s blood alcohol concentration using infrared light when the driver presses an ignition button. The vehicle won’t start if the alcohol concentration is too high.
The technology, which is sometimes breath-based rather than touch-activated, is already in use in some workplace drug-testing programmes. If the technology were incorporated into all new vehicles, eventually all drivers would be alcohol-tested before driving. That could potentially prevent an estimated 7,000 drunken-driving deaths a year, the board said.
The five-member board made the unanimous recommendations after receiving a new study from its staff that found an average of 360 people a year are killed when drivers turn the wrong way into the face of oncoming traffic on high-speed highways. In 59% of the accidents, wrong-way drivers had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit, researchers said. In another 10% of the crashes, drivers had alcohol levels between .08 and .14. The limit in most instances is .08.