Locked Out, not Locked Up: Helping Drivers Avoid Driving While Under the Influence | Center on Addiction

Locked Out, not Locked Up: Helping Drivers Avoid Driving While Under the Influence

Locked Out, not Locked Up: Helping Drivers Avoid Driving While Under the Influence


Every two minutes a person is injured due to drinking and driving in America. This frightening statistic reveals that there’s still much work that needs to be done to prevent those who drink from getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. In fact, an old technology may very well help promote safer driving practices. Politicians are now calling for new laws that require those convicted of a driving under the influence (DUI) offense to equip their vehicles with devices that can detect alcohol on their breath.

The device, called an ignition interlock, was created in the 1960s and designed to keep alcohol-impaired drivers off the road. It’s wired into the ignition system of a car, requiring a person previously convicted of a DUI to blow into the device in order to start the vehicle. If the person’s blood alcohol level is detected to be above the state set alcohol level, the vehicle will not turn on. Currently, 27 states require these devices for all DUI offenders. Many states have seen a decrease in impaired driving deaths as a result. Oregon, Arizona, Louisiana and New Mexico have each shown a 30 percent decrease in DUI fatalities, a remarkable improvement. Additionally, a review of studies about ignition interlocks found strong evidence that they are effective in reducing rates of repeated impaired driving and decreasing alcohol-related crashes.

Yet there are arguments against ignition interlocks, despite their effectiveness. These devices could be bypassed if a sober person blows into them on the offender’s behalf. While this is certainly possible, interlocks are required to have anti-circumvention features to prevent this. Ignition interlocks also have temperature and air gauges to prevent people from using compressed air to blow into them.

These devices are a particularly good alternative to a license revocation that might otherwise create hardship for offenders who need to drive to locations of importance to their sobriety, such as work, school, treatment or 12-Step Programs. Indeed, studies have shown that many DUI offenders continue to drive despite their revoked privileges for these reasons, and without the safeguard of an ignition interlock.

Today, California has an ignition interlock pilot program in four counties, including Los Angeles, which applies to drivers convicted of getting a DUI. As a result, the roads in Los Angeles County are safer. However, this is only a pilot program and it’s due to expire next summer. The county may soon face significant increases in drug driving, which is the action or offense of driving while under the influence of drugs, due to the legalization of recreational marijuana that California may soon pass into law. Research has shown that the combination of alcohol and marijuana creates a combined impairment on driving that exceeds the effects of either drug alone. 

How can you help as a parent?

The consequences of drinking and driving can be devastating and need to be addressed. It’s essential to talk to your kids about drinking and driving well before they receive their motor vehicle license, so they know and understand these risks. And for those who don’t heed the warning, it’s long overdue for all states to enact laws that require ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders and mandate treatment for repeat offenders.

Learn more about how to talk to your kids about drinking here. You can also ask your local legislators to address ignition interlock programs here, and help make the roads safer for everyone.

Michelle Conley, MIPH

Michelle is a Digital and Communications Manager at Center on Addiction


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