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Interlock Ignition Devices Stopped Thousands of Drunk Drivers This Year

Updated on: 2/26/2019

Each year, nearly 10,000 Americans are killed in drunk driving accidents. Those fatalities account for nearly one third of all traffic-related deaths in America. Police departments, state troopers, and local sheriffs arrested over one million people for driving under the influence in 2014. The Center for Disease Control estimates that there are approximately 121 million episodes of drunk driving in the United States every year.

Fortunately, lawmakers have one option for stopping drunk drivers before they reach the road: interlock ignition devices. These gadgets analyze a driver’s breath to detect whether they’ve recently consumed alcohol. If they detect alcohol, they prevent the vehicle they’re installed in from starting. If a driver blows into the device while sober (or gets a friend to do it for them) and then drinks behind the wheel, the device will require random retests, and will activate the vehicle’s horn as a signal to nearby police that the driver is drunk.

Few people opt into the use of an interlock ignition device. They are usually installed after a drunk driver is caught by police and sentenced in court. All 50 states have some law on the books regarding the use of ignition interlock devices, but the rules about when a device must be used vary from state to state.

In Washington state, an interlock device is required for anyone who wants to drive a vehicle while their license has been suspended or revoked. Typically, drivers arrested for DUI are allowed to keep their license for 60 days after a DUI arrest, after which the license may be suspended for a period between 90 days and 2 years. Washington has an “All-Offender” law for these devices, meaning that any offender can be required to use the device while their license is suspended, even if it’s the first time they were ever caught driving drunk. Six states only mandate these devices for repeat offenders, and many other states only mandate devices for offenders with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher.

Victory for victims’ advocates

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is an organization dedicated to eliminating car accidents involving drunk drivers in the United States. For years, they have advocated for ignition interlocks for all people who have been found driving under the influence, even if their arrest was their first known offense. MADD’s tireless advocacy has increased the use of interlock ignition devices nationwide.

In 2016, MADD conducted a study of data provided to them by 11 companies that manufacture ignition interlock devices. They found that since 2006, these devices stopped at least 2.3 million instances of drunk driving.

Washington’s state’s current law regarding these devices went into effect on January 1st, 2009. From then until the present date, over 100,000 instances of drunk driving were prevented by the devices. 14,133 occurred just in the year 2016. That’s an astonishing number of crimes prevented—and possibly thousands of lives saved.

Mischelle Davis, our Director of Operations at Davis Law Group, has been a passionate supported of MADD for years. She is one of the founding members of the MADD Washington State Advisory Board, and she has organized dozens of awareness outreach events. At Davis Law Group, we’re proud of the work she has done to prevent DUI fatalities in Washington state.

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