Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

December 12, 2012

NTSB: Use ignition locks for all drunken drivers

WASHINGTON — Every state should require convicted drunken drivers, including first-time offenders, to use devices that prevent them from starting a car’s engine if their breath tests positive for alcohol, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

The ignition interlock devices — already required for all convicted drunken drivers in 17 states — are currently the best available solution 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 said.

Drivers breathe into breathalyzers mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard. If their breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the device’s programmed limit — usually a blood alcohol concentration of .02 percent or .04 percent — then the engine won’t start.

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 programs. 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 reviewing evidence that 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.

The board’s study analyzed data from 1,566 crashes from 2004 to 2009, as well as nine wrong-way collisions NTSB directly investigated. In 59 percent of the accidents, wrong-way drivers had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit, researchers said. In another 10 percent of the crashes, drivers had alcohol levels between .08 and .14. The limit in most instances is .08.

In just the past week, 11 people were killed and 9 seriously injured in wrong-way driving accidents in eight states, the board was told.

“Wrong-way crashes shatter lives and families,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, calling the report and the recommendations a “milestone” for the board.  The technologies hold “great promise to be a game changer in highway safety,” she said.

The board’s recommendations are likely to be strongly opposed by the alcohol industry. The American Beverage Institute, which represents about 8,000 chain restaurants in the U.S., said mandatory ignition interlock devices should be reserved for “hardcore” drunken drivers and it opposes the new technology that government and industry are researching.

First-time drunk drivers with blood alcohol levels that are less than double the legal limit should be treated differently than drivers with higher alcohol levels and repeat offenders, Sarah Longwell, the institute’s managing director, said.

“You don’t punish somebody going five miles over the speed limit the same way you do somebody going 50 miles over the speed limit,” she said.

Also, the developing technology would effectively prevent any one with relatively small amounts of alcohol in their blood from driving, Longwell said.

“This would eliminate people’s ability to have a glass of wine with dinner or to have a beer at a ballgame and then drive home,” she said.

Older drivers also appear to be part of the wrong-way driving problem, researchers said. Drivers over age 70 were overrepresented in the accidents reviewed in the study, accounting for 15 percent of the wrong-way drivers compared with only 3 percent of the right-way drivers they collided with, researchers said.

Wrong-way driving crashes on interstates, expressways and other high-speed highways are especially deadly because over 80 percent involve head-on collisions in which vehicles close in on each other very rapidly, they said. A study in Michigan earlier this year found that 22 percent of wrong-way collisions were fatal, compared with 0.3 percent for all highway accidents over the same period.

Often the chain of events begins with drivers entering an exit ramp in the wrong direction, making a U-turn on the mainline of a highway or using an emergency turnaround through a median, investigators said.

Most wrong-way crashes — including seven of the nine accidents directly investigated by NTSB — take place in the fast lane of the highway, investigators said. The accidents also tend to happen at night and on weekends, the study found.

Reducing drunken driving is perhaps the most obvious way to reduce wrong-way driving fatalities and injuries. The board hosted a forum earlier this year on the problem of drivers impaired by alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol-impaired crashes overall accounted for nearly 31 percent motor vehicle fatalities 2010. And, that percentage has remained stuck between 30 and 32 percent of overall highway fatalities since 1995, board members said.

Safety advocates have been lobbying states to pass more laws requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, states that already have such laws on the books are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Missouri’s law does take effect until next fall. Also, four California counties — including Los Angeles — have ignition interlock laws.

“The laws may vary some, but the common thread is that they are for all first time offenders,” Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the association, said.

———

Online:

National Transportation Safety Board http://www.ntsb.gov

———

Follow Joan Lowy at http://www.twitter.com/AP—Joan—Lowy

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Michigan affirmative ban is OK, Supreme Court says

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • ‘Piles and piles’ of bodies in South Sudan slaughter

    Gunmen who targeted both children and the elderly left “piles and piles” of bodies — many of those in a mosque — in a provincial capital in South Sudan, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Obama_Stew.jpg Obama views mudslide scene

    Swooping over a terrain of great sadness and death, President Barack Obama took an aerial tour Tuesday of the place where more than three dozen people perished in a mudslide last month, then mourned privately with those who lost loved ones in the destruction.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wall Street_Stew.jpg Earnings and corporate deals lift U.S. stocks

    Corporate deals and some solid earnings reports propelled the stock market to its sixth straight gain Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Economy College Gradu_Stew.jpg Job market for college grads better but still weak

    With college commencement ceremonies nearing, the government is offering a modest dose of good news for graduating seniors: The job market is brightening for new grads — a bit.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court TV On t_Stew.jpg Internet TV case: Justices skeptical, concerned

    Grappling with fast-changing technology, Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can protect the copyrights of TV broadcasters to the shows they send out without strangling innovations in the use of the internet.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1791, the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, was born in Franklin County, Pa.

    April 23, 2014

  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results