Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NTSB calls for mandatory ignition interlocks

In 1928 Herbert Hoover promised that if he were elected there would be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Things, of course, didn't quite work out that way.

Today the National Traffic Safety Board wants to see an ignition interlock in every car.

If the NTSB has its way, everyone in the United States convicted of a DWI would be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on their car. What's wrong with that, you might ask?

The ignition interlock only detects alcohol. Our drunk driving laws lump in drivers who are under the influence of other substances - such as prescription medications, marijuana or other illicit drugs. What use would an interlock have for a driver convicted of being impaired by smoking marijuana?

Then there's the question of who would be required to install the interlock and for how long. As a condition of probation? That might fly. But what if the defendant ends up going to jail or taking time served and a fine? Are we going to require someone to install the device after they've done their time? And what if there was no breath test? There are plenty of DWI cases in which a jury convicts based on how they think a defendant did on the roadside calisthenics? Will we be looking at mandatory sentences in DWI cases next? Will los federales dictate to the states (through the use of transportation funds) that probation is the only acceptable sentence for a motorist convicted of drunk driving?

These proposals are just a precursor to what the NTSB really wants - interlocks as standard equipment in new cars. Let's forget for a second that it's perfectly legal to drink a beer and get behind the wheel. Go to dinner, have a drink and sit in the parking lot waiting for your alcohol concentration to go down. Let's forget for a second that in this country we are presumed innocent unless the state can prove otherwise.

If interlocks are made standard is the next step a database that will store the interlock readings from every car on the road. You laugh but GM's On-Star allows the police to retrieve a virtual black box that tells them everyplace you've been and how fast you were driving.

And what about the technology itself? Who will calibrate the devices installed as original equipment in new cars? What assurances would we have that the technology is reliable and accurate?

The call for interlocks was based on a study in which the NTSB determined that most wrong-way collisions involve at least one motorist driving while intoxicated. The board patted themselves on the back for pointing out that wrong way collisions are bad. Well, maybe it's one way streets that are causing the problems.

Just hang out in downtown Houston any day and you will see at least one person turning left when they should have turned right (or vice versa) during the middle of the day. All it takes is a driver unfamiliar with the area and a series of one way streets and you've got yourself a potential disaster.

The penalties for driving while intoxicated are already out of proportion with any other misdemeanor on the books. We don't need to pile even more conditions on top of a motorist who finds himself with a DWI conviction. Of course drunk drivers make an easy target for proponents of a stronger police state - no one wants more drunk drivers on the road. And that's just how bad laws get passed.

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