Put disabling devices on DUI offenders' cars
MADD is calling for the Hawaii Legislature to use technology to prevent a past DUI offender when intoxicated from starting a car's engine.
is on the rise in Hawaii, one of only five states that don't require use of technology that prevents intoxicated DUI offenders from starting their cars' engines. A lame version of such a requirement was introduced at the Legislature this year, but didn't even receive a hearing. The upcoming session should correct that negligence by enacting something tougher.
A national campaign against drunken driving a quarter-century ago resulted in a 40 percent decline in traffic deaths. The yearly national traffic-death toll in which a driver was legally drunk has hovered around 13,000 people a year in the past decade, but Hawaii's alcohol-related traffic deaths increased nearly 11 percent, from 64 to 71, from 2004 to 2005 alone. DUI arrests in Hawaii also are increasing, having already exceeded last year's total of 2,795 with a month of 2006 still remaining.
The technology to help stop the carnage caused by drunken drivers isn't new. The alcohol ignition interlock system is a breath-test device connected to a vehicle's ignition system that prevents a drunken driver from starting the car. Canada began using it in 1991, taking away licenses from drivers convicted of driving drunk but returning them sooner if they agreed to installation of the device. The objective was to keep DUI offenders in the licensing system and keep them insured while stopping them from drinking and driving. "The interlock does all three of those things," said Andrew Murie, director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Canada.
New Mexico is the only state that requires the starter-disabling devices for people who have been convicted of a first offense. The law took effect in June 2005 and was a significant factor in that state's 11.3 percent drop in alcohol-related traffic fatalities last year.
Most other states require the devices for repeat offenders, and many of those showed even bigger declines than that in New Mexico. A bill introduced during Hawaii's last legislative session would have required them only for at least three-time offenders, including them as an alternative to fines or other penalties for first and second offenders.
The American Beverage Institute complains that tough measures are "about eliminating all moderate and responsible drinking prior to driving." Century Council, a trade association for liquor distillers, suggests that the device be triggered at a blood-alcohol threshold far above the legal limit for first-time offenders.
Further technology advances might be on the horizon. General Motors is testing a Breathalyzer attached to a key chain preventing a car from starting when it senses too much alcohol. A New Mexico company is working on use of a technique for measuring blood chemistry in diabetics to measure alcohol instead when a driver's palm touches the steering wheel or the gear shift.
Hawaii should not wait for further advances. New Mexico and other states have shown that the ignition interlocks work to reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths, and Hawaii legislators would be remiss keeping the issue on the shelf.
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