The threat of arrest and punishment, for decades the primary tactic against drunken drivers, is no longer working in the struggle to reduce the death toll, officials say, and they are proposing alcohol detection devices in every vehicle to address the problem. In the first phase of the plan, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, backed by a national association of highway officials and car manufacturers, will announce today a campaign to change drunken driving laws in 49 states to require that even first offenders install a device that tests drivers and shuts down the car if it detects alcohol, reports the New York Times.
Many states already require the devices, known as ignition interlocks, for people who have been convicted several times. Last year New Mexico became the first to make them mandatory after a first offense. With that tactic and others, the state saw an 11.3 percent drop in alcohol-related fatalities last year. Officials say interlocks for first offenders are not a panacea but will reduce repeat offenses. They say the next step will be a program to develop devices to unobtrusively test every driver for alcohol and disable the vehicle. Statistics show that about 13,000 people die each year in car crashes in which a driver was legally drunk.