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New Technology to Monitor Drunk Drivers
By Rayni Joan


If Mel Gibson lived in New Mexico, he'd be required to have a piece of new technology to monitor drunk drivers installed in his automobile. It's called an ignition interlock and it's basically an alcohol detector.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is behind a movement to use this new technology nationwide to monitor and control drunk drivers. Also backing this campaign are a national association of state highway officials and car manufacturers. Their plan is to change drunk driving laws nationwide, as New Mexico was the first to do, and make ignition interlock devices a mandate for first time offenders. (You can check various state requirements for ignition interlock devices at http://www.ncsl.org/programs/lis/dui/ignition.htm.)

In the early 1980's, MADD spearheaded a successful campaign to control drunk driving nationwide through education and an increase in the drinking age from 18 to 21. After an initial dramatic reduction in drunk driving fatalities, progress slowed in the 90's and reached a standstill after the turn of the century. In kicking off their new campaign to stop drunk drivers, MADD is looking to the example of New Mexico.

New Mexico mandated installation of this new technology to monitor drunk drivers in mid-June 2005, and almost immediately recorded a drop of 11.3% in drunk driving fatalities. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who advocates for other states to adopt the ignition interlocks has said, "It is an integral part of our success."

The ignition interlock device requires a driver to breathe into a Breathalyzer tube which connects to the car's ignition system. If enough alcohol is detected, the ignition interlock device will prevent the car from starting, very effectively keeping the drunk driver off the road.

Critics of the ignition interlock point out that a sober passenger could breathe into the tube instead of the driver. This is true, of course. A particularly gruesome example would be a drunk parent who made a game in which his child blew into the tube. But regardless of the possibilities for circumventing it, it's hard to argue against the simple reality that this new technology to monitor drunk drivers has already shown itself to be effective in New Mexico.