Study finds universal interlock use could dramatically cut DWI deaths

Texas routinely tops the charts as one of the worst states in the U.S. for drunk driving. According to a report by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), alcohol-impaired drivers caused 1,337 deaths statewide in 2013, or about 40 percent of all traffic fatalities for the year. Along with those who were killed, thousands of other people more suffered serious, non-fatal injuries as a result of drunk driving in Texas.

In an effort to help keep drivers off the road when they have had too much to drink, researchers are now looking into the possibility of equipping all new vehicles with ignition interlock devices. Their findings suggest that universal interlocks could dramatically reduce fatal drunk driving accidents.

What is an ignition interlock?

An ignition interlock is an alcohol-testing device similar to the Intoxilyzer or Breathalyzer, which can be used to test a driver's breath for alcohol. Unlike the devices used by law enforcement, however, an ignition interlock is attached to a vehicle's ignition system and prevents the car from starting if the breath sample indicates higher-than-acceptable alcohol levels.

Currently, interlock devices are typically used as an enforcement measure for people who have been convicted of certain impaired driving offenses. In Texas, for example, people with two or more drunk driving convictions are required to use an ignition interlock device after their driving privileges are restored.

Universal interlock use could save lives and money

Recently, a group of researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute looked into the potential effects of equipping all new vehicles with ignition interlocks, rather than limiting them to drivers who have already been convicted. Their findings were published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

According to the study, about 85 percent of the nation's alcohol-related deaths could be prevented by making interlocks a standard feature on new vehicles nationwide. Over a 15-year implementation period, the researchers estimate that the measure could save more than 59,000 lives and another 1.25 million non-fatal injuries. Universal interlock use would also generate substantial financial benefits, resulting in an estimated $343 billion in savings to society. The authors of the study say the strategy would pay for itself in just three years.

The study was the first in the U.S. to examine the impact of making interlocks a standard feature on new vehicles, and it remains to be seen whether the findings will gain any traction in the real world. In the meantime, however, lawmakers in Texas are considering a measure that would expand the state's DWI interlock program to include some first-time offenders. Under the proposed law, people convicted of first-time drunk driving offenses would be given the choice between license suspension and use of an interlock device.

Impaired drivers can be liable for injuries

When drunk drivers cause accidents in Texas, they can be held financially liable to anyone who is injured as a result. If you or a family member has been hurt in a crash with an impaired driver, contact the Law Office of Jason January, P.C., to learn about the possibility of seeking compensation for your injuries, medical costs, lost wages and other damages.