Ignition Interlocks, Coming to a Car Near You?

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The notion of devices that make starting your car impossible without passing some form of blood-alcohol test goes mainstream on the front page of America's newspaper, USA Today. Some details from the piece:

New York state legislators are considering requiring the devices on all cars and trucks by 2009…..

Manufacturers are perfecting technology that could detect alcohol on the skin surface, eliminating the need for the current, cumbersome, blow-into-a-tube breath-analyzing systems. Current breathalyzers cost about $1,000. The newer systems are expected to cost about the same.

The father of the New York bill, Felix Ortiz, has a good record on achieving what might have seemed ridiculous regulatory goals: he's the driving force behind the state's cell-phone-use-while-driving ban, the nation's first.

Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving isn't yet calling for them in all cars.

For now, the organization prefers requiring the devices, called ignition interlocks, for anyone convicted of a first drunken-driving offense.

About 70,000 ignition interlocks are on vehicles–most of them ordered by courts for repeat drunken-driving offenders.

Even without universal use, there's a huge potential market in the 1.4 million people who are arrested for drunken driving each year. Legislation is pending in at least 12 states that would require interlocks for some or all first-time offenders.

Reason's Jacob Sullum questioned the logic and slid down the slippery slope of legal blood alcohol standards here.

[Link thanks to The Agitator.]

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  1. On the bright side, it’ll be harder for drunks to steal my car.

  2. If these skin-readers are as accurate and reliable as your standard police-issue breathalyzer, well, um, I think I’ll go cry.

  3. Maybe the devices could even summon the police so you could be arrested for even thinking about trying to drive your car with alcohol in your system.

  4. Here’s a question that naturally follows from this proposed concept:

    If being “drunk in public” is illegal as well, then, would it not also logically be necessary to put these interlock devices on the exterior doors of your house? That way, you can’t go out in “public” without being sober.

    Not that I’m trying to give them any big ideas.

  5. Aside fromt he huge apparent cost, my question is will it even work? If I go out with my buddies barhapping an dclubbing or whatnot, and I am the designated driver and never drink any alcohol, will:

    1)I pass the test despite being surrounded by drunks and booze all night, and possibly picking some up on my body from residual contact with tables, glasses, friends etc.?

    2) My passengers set off the device?

    Finally, if a drunk driver wears long sleeves, gloves, a scarf over his face, and is otherwise bundled up, perhaps in wintertime, will this even work? It goes on skin exposure right?

  6. I’m confused.

    There is a big push in this country to have cars at least partially fueled by alcohol (ethanol).

    Shouldn’t the driver be, then?

  7. I used to hang out at this Italian joint in downtown chicago. The owner used to get plastered every single night. Anyway, he had to get one of those breathalizer things installed in his car b/c he had a few dui’s. So his brilliant plan was having the busboys blow into his car so that it would start. The owner would then offer the bussboy a ride home and the busboy accepted every single time. I couldn’t help but crack up every time i saw them in the car leaving the restaurant at like 3 in the morning.

  8. Why just in the car and on the front door? Implant a chip in everyone, that notifies law enforcement when they ingest any illegal substance, or too much of any legal substance.

    “DEA busts local cops for overconsuming jelly doughnuts!!”

  9. Joseph R. Gusfield, a sociologist (readable though!) writing in the ironic style of Erving Goffman, did a book on drunk driving and how it changed from a personal moral failing to a “public problem,” when groups noticed that they could take ownership of it and get power.

    He reported the MADD’s attitude changed from helpful to hostile when they discovered he was studying them, not drunk driving.

    _The Culture of Public Problems : Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order_ U Chicago Press 1981

    He has a more recent and general book on the same topic as well.

    Anyway mostly drunk driving is common and harmless.

  10. Oh I should mention my friend F.T.Grammp’s line on MADD : “If it weren’t for the drunks, most of them wouldn’t be mothers.”

  11. Boy, the nannies sure are generous with other peoples money aren’t they?

    I mean, there actually are people in this country who never drink. Kinda makes you wonder if maybe they wouldn’t rather spend the grand or so it takes to put this in a car on something else, doesn’t it?

  12. “Anyway mostly drunk driving is common and harmless.”

    Don’t forget loads of fun.

  13. I always hire cheaufeurs who don’t drink.

  14. Is there any example of the slippery slope “fallacy” that’s ever actually been, you know, wrong? About anything? Ever?

  15. “The father of the New York bill, Felix Ortiz, has a good record on achieving what might have seemed ridiculous regulatory goals: he’s the driving force behind the state’s cell-phone-use-while-driving ban, the nation’s first.”

    I wouldn’t lump the cell-phone-use-while-driving ban into a “ridiculous regulatory goals” category. Nearly every time I’ve been cut off or run off the road cycling or walking here in DC, I’ve noticed that the driver is some fucktard jabbering away on a cell-phone.

    Ortiz may very well be the master of useless regulations, but I’d have to see examples of some of his other work in order to make any sort of judgement call.

  16. I knew a guy who just filled up balloons with his own breath to use on his car breathalyzer (he might have been bullshitting though, he was pretty drunk when he told us that).

    What happens when i get shot and my car breathalyzer won’t let me start the car to drive the hospital? I might concoct such a situation for the purpose of suing.

  17. Isn’t drunk driving a much bigger threat to you than terrorism?

    I find it hard to believe people would object to convicted drunk drivers being required to install these devices.

    As far as the devices being on all cars, I would think that with mass manufacturing the price would come down substantially, and the insurance incentives could ameliorate much of that cost, but I would want to run the numbers.

  18. I always hire cheaufeurs who don’t drink.

    If only Princess Di had thought of that.

  19. Is there any example of the slippery slope “fallacy” that’s ever actually been, you know, wrong? About anything? Ever?

    Go watch any high school CX-Policy debate, you’ll have your answer.

  20. I wonder out loud if a drunk driver makes it from the bar to her house without clobbering anyone if an actual crime has been committed.

    Conversely, even if every road were privatized in the US there would be private restrictions on the use of alcohol while using someone else’s private road. IOW, it is doubtful that any private road owner would tolerate drunks behind the wheel.

  21. emme,
    Was the restaurateur’s name Marty?

  22. I would file this idea under JPD. (Just plain dumb).

    What happens when I fill up my vehicle with E85 at the gas station, spill a little on my hands and then try and start my car?

    And I just used a porta-potty at a construction site yesterday. They had a dispenser in it with some of that hand sanitizer in it. Guess what the magic ingredient in that is. So would my choice then be clean hands and no driving or driving with fecal contamination?

    And the blow type analyzer would be so easy to defeat.

    If this stupid idea ever comes about I have faith that there will be all kinds of products available to defeat the interlock.

  23. Breathlyzers (of which ignition interlock devices are a subspecies) are generally hugely unreliable (check out Lawrence Taylor’s blog http://www.duiblog.com for examples). Ignition interlocks also have the added problem that you have to take them to the dealer every month or so to get calibrated. Between the initial charge to install it, the cost of the monthly service and the hassle of taking it in, its a huge problem. Seems like overkill for first offenders (the vast majority of whom never reoffend) and even worse for people who have NEVER offended!

  24. The key issue here seems to be whether persons in authority will have arbitrary control of whether or not your car will start. This may be acceptable after conviction for a relevant felony (reckless driving, vehicular manslaughter, etc.), but not for the population in general, if the presumption of innocence means anything at all.

    Keep your eyes on the ball, which is government remote control and tracking of your vehicle. The excuse today is to deter drunken driving. Whether or not it is successful, they’ll soon try another. Is this a conspiracy? Who knows? Regardless, the trajectory seems obvious; if we allow it to progress, we’re the fools, and we’ll come to regret it.

  25. Bring on the breathalyzer. You can’t even be drunk in a bar in Texas so what’s the point of leaving the house? I’m selling my car and buying a keggerator.

  26. The crappy thing about this proposal is that it is so difficult to criticize without opening one’s self to the “So, you want people to be able to drive drunk?” attack. Of course, it’s bullshit, but that doesn’t mean that the arugment won’t appeal to the average Joe.

  27. I find it hard to believe people would object to convicted drunk drivers being required to install these devices.
    That depends, Coach. Most people have no idea how easily that can go from being a law-abiding citizen to a “drunk driver”. Sometimes, a glass of wine with dinner, and an inconvenient placed DUI checkpoint are all it takes. The threshold for being in violation of the law is extremely low.

    Here’s a question: What exactly is our fascination with lifetime “bonus” punishments? Aren’t fines, prison, and ostracization enough anymore?

  28. “emme,
    Was the restaurateur’s name Marty?”

    No. But I know a drunk named Marty who hung out with the guy I’m talking about.

  29. David,
    My fascination with this “punishment” is that it is very narrowly tailored to reducing the dangerous behavior rather than other pernicious effects.

    Drunk driving is a very serious problem in the US. Jacob Sullum may be correct that it is much more the case in the > .14 range, I am not really sure and I could easily be persuaded that .08 is too low.

  30. As to the situation Emme describes, I would be for much harder sanctions against someone who consciously worked around the device.

  31. My fascination with this “punishment” is that it is very narrowly tailored to reducing the dangerous behavior rather than other pernicious effects.

    It’s a obtrusive punishment forced on people, the vast majority of which have not commited a crime, with the potential for a wide range of unintended consequences.

  32. the insurance incentives could ameliorate much of that cost
    That’s what they said about seat belts, airbags, and 5-mph bumpers. Any supposed cost savings didn’t appear in anybody’s insurance bill, primarily because safety technology doesn’t reduce costs, especially when it’s mandatory.

  33. I see that Ford lost over $1 billion last quarter.

    I bet they’re real giddy at the prospect of raising their prices another grand.

  34. Of course, it’s bullshit, but that doesn’t mean that the arugment won’t appeal to the average Joe.

    So what is your suggestion to lower the large number of deaths caused by drunk drivers?

  35. “So what is your suggestion to lower the large number of deaths caused by drunk drivers?”

    Make it mandatory for every citizen to drive a tank.

  36. Coach,

    I was thinking more generally than just this one item. Still, if you don’t consider having every passenger ever to ride in your car knowing about your drunk driving conviction to be a punishment, I don’t know what to say.

  37. rhywun,

    Cars should be made out of Nerf.

    I think that was from a “Raymond” episode.

  38. Budgie:

    “I wouldn’t lump the cell-phone-use-while-driving ban into a “ridiculous regulatory goals” category. Nearly every time I’ve been cut off or run off the road cycling or walking here in DC, I’ve noticed that the driver is some fucktard jabbering away on a cell-phone.”

    Well, given that the cell-phone bans have a loophole by allowing cellphone use if a handsfree headset is used—even though all studies have shown that headset use is just as dangerous—kinda makes the bans meaningless.

    On the other hand, many other studies have shown that driving while chatting on the phone is just as or more dangerous than driving with a .08 bac. One gets you prison time, a rash of huge fees, and a revoked license. The other gets you, oh, probably a small fine.

    Makes alot of sense.

  39. Why do we let drunk drivers who actually kill people take a walk, while punishing those who can’t even tell they’re over the legal limit?

  40. if the presumption of innocence means anything at all.

    ROTFLMAO.

  41. Make it mandatory for every citizen to drive a tank.

    That’ll do wonders for the price of gas…

    But seriously… there is a real problem here without an easy solution. Not just with drinking but with all the other distractions mentioned. I’ve read many comments here over the years that all say essentially, “*I* can drive drunk”. Well, duh. Everyone thinks *they’re* immune to distractions while they’re driving. Except… it’s not true.

  42. So what is your suggestion to lower the large number of deaths caused by drunk drivers?

    ONe way would be to change the way the statistics are counted…a drunk pedestrian that walks out in front of a car and is killed results in another ‘alcohol-related traffic death’ which gets genericized into ‘drunk-driving death’.

  43. Of course, it’s bullshit, but that doesn’t mean that the arugment won’t appeal to the average Joe.

    There is a limit to what the public will tolerate. The Texas bar stings were called off because of public outcry.

  44. Everyone thinks *they’re* immune to distractions while they’re driving. Except… it’s not true.

    I find that the most distracting thing is all the other cars and pedestrians and traffic lights. We need to outlaw them.

  45. So what is your suggestion to lower the large number of deaths caused by drunk drivers?

    Do away with CAFE requirements and mandate large heavy cars (proven safer in accidents) for everyone!

    If it saves one life . . . .

  46. Of course, it’s bullshit, but that doesn’t mean that the arugment won’t appeal to the average Joe.

    Yes, but we have to get to a point where we just don’t give a damn what others think, and willing to defend our arguments based upon their logic and truth, not the emotion carpings of a puerile populace. That’s one reason we have a ridiculous war in Iraq (among other Statist stupidities) on our hands, too many people too scared to look like the odd man out.

    So what is your suggestion to lower the large number of deaths caused by drunk drivers?

    Suggestions and ideas are not the problem, nor should intelligent ones be dismissed. The problem is stupid assed politicians who, having too much time and our money on their hands, look for an opportunity to micromanage the hell out of the populace. Also, the “activists” who childishly think they can ameliorate every little statistical risk in life with the magic pen of legislation.

  47. “So what is your suggestion to lower the large number of deaths caused by drunk drivers?”

    Outlaw alcohol.

    At least that would be honest.

  48. Evan,
    “Well, given that the cell-phone bans have a loophole by allowing cellphone use if a handsfree headset is used—even though all studies have shown that headset use is just as dangerous—kinda makes the bans meaningless.”

    It seems we’re agreed then. The regulation makes perfect sense if you don’t allow any loopholes. The notion that one can still operate 1000 pound+ machinery and multitask at the same time is the problem here.

  49. “Well, given that the cell-phone bans have a loophole by allowing cellphone use if a handsfree headset is used—even though all studies have shown that headset use is just as dangerous—kinda makes the bans meaningless.”

    You are always the worse offender if you are the one that ingested an intoxicating substance.

  50. Egads.

    I’m not entirely sure when “it’s for your own good” became a convincing argument with the populace, but I don’t like it much.

  51. I bet they’re real giddy at the prospect of raising their prices another grand.

    If every mfgr has to raise their prices a grand, then this should not be a particular problem for Ford — in fact, it may represent a margin of opportunity for that lethargic company to compete on engineering merits.

    The other side of the coin is that automobile demand may be elastic enough to do damage across the whole auto market, but I am sort of skeptical about that.

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