New Fed Initiatives Include Ignition Interlock Guidelines to Reduce Fatal Drunk Driving Accidents
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced a new program and proposed guidelines to reduce the number of drunk drivers. While the holiday season typically marks a significant increase in drunk driving fatalities, these latest proposals come in the wake of a rise in DUI crash fatalities from 9,865 in 2011 to 10,322 last year. Further, the federal agency indicates that the majority of these crashes involved drivers whose blood alcohol concentration was .15 percent or higher which amounts to nearly double the legal limit.
The NHTSA has announced the "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" winter crackdown on alcohol and drug impaired drivers and a proposal for implementation of ignition interlock programs. The Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over program involves $7.5 million in public service advertising to raise awareness of the public regarding the heightened law enforcement efforts to reduce drunk driving deaths nationally during the holiday season. The public service messages and law enforcement crackdown on drunk driving ranfrom December 13 through January 1, 2014.
The enhanced enforcement efforts are an attempt to combat the fact that over the last decade 2 out of every 5 traffic fatalities between Christmas and the New Year's holiday was alcohol related according to the NHTSA. Although progress has been made in reducing drunk driving fatalities over the last decade, the federal agency reports that the percentage of alcohol related deaths during the holidays has actually increased over the last decade.
The agency also chose this holiday period to propose new guidelines for states in adopting policies and procedures for ignition interlock programs. The agency's guidelines specifically highlight the success of ignition interlock programs in reducing fatal drunk driving crashes. Ignition interlock devices are essentially portable breath testing devices that a driver must blow into before starting his or her vehicle. If the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds a certain threshold, the vehicle will not start.
Some of the recommendations made by the agency include the following:
• Establishing a minimum duration during which drivers convicted of DWI must use an ignition interlock device.
• Mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices for all DWI offenders, including 1st time offenders as a condition of driver's license reinstatement.
• Discontinue alternatives that permit avoiding the ignition interlock requirement.
• Ease eligibility requirements for participation in the program so that more drivers qualify for the restriction.
While it is unclear to what degree Georgia will following the NHTSA recommendations, the effectiveness of ignition interlock device programs make their adoption a potentially valuable tool in reducing DUI accident injuries and fatalities. This is especially true because many repeat DUI offenders continue to drive despite having their driving privileges suspended.
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