The National Transportation Safety Board this week released a report in which it called for all states to require the use of breathalyzer devices that prevent those convicted of drunken drivers from starting a car’s engine if the breath tests positive for alcohol.
The device works like this: If a person is convicted of drunken driving, it is installed on the dashboard of all vehicles owned by the person. The car owner, or whoever is driving, must breath into the unit, and if the alcohol content is greater than the device’s programmed limit, the engine won’t start.
The person convicted of the DWI is responsible for the cost of installation and maintenance of the device.
Seventeen states, including Virginia, already have such requirements, as well as several individual counties in California. The only question is, why do all states — including North Carolina — not have such a law on the books?
Over the past 17 years roughly a third of all vehicular deaths in the United States were attributed to drunken driving.
What prompted the safety board’s recommendation is a five-year study of wrong-way collisions. These sorts of wrecks, in which vehicles smash into one another head-on, are particularly devastating because head-on collisions are significantly more violent than virtually any other type of automobile wreck.
In the overwhelming majority of these cases, drivers of the car going the wrong direction on a highway were legally drunk. In nearly 60 percent of the cases, the driver’s blood alcohol levels were more than twice the legal limit.
The proposal is likely to be opposed by the alcohol industry. Already the American Beverage Institute, according to the Associated Press, is lobbying against the measure, saying such a requirement should only be instituted in cases of “hardcore” drunken drivers.
The institute’s managing director, Sarah Longwell, told the AP that first-time drunk drivers with blood alcohol levels less than double the legal limit should be treated differently than drivers with higher alcohol levels and repeat offenders.
“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.
This is a bogus line of reasoning put forth by an organization that’s concerned with a single objective — to sell more alcoholic beverages, without regard to the consequences of such sales. Anything, even a responsible proposal such as this one put forth by the NTSB, will be opposed if it is likely to lower alcoholic beverage sales.
First-time drunk drivers are not like speeders going five miles per hour over the speed limit. In most cases, the danger of driving at that speed is limited. Not so with drunk drivers — it only takes one time for someone to kill, to forever alter families and lives.
Drunk drivers are dangerous, they’re irresponsible, they are selfish, and driving drunk once generally indicates a propensity for this sort of behavior — whether “hardcore” or just a couple of times a year. There should be no room for second chances when it comes to those driving under the influence.
For the good of everyone on the highways, we ask Rep. Sarah Stevens and State Sen. Shirley Randleman to introduce such a bill in the next session of the General Assembly.
There would be few pieces of legislation that could have as much of a direct, immediate and positive effect on the lives of Surry County residents as this requirement, and there is no logical reason not to institute the law.