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Alcohol sensing device another safety tool

A national campaign aimed at DWI offenders is gaining momentum. Some states, eleven in total, have already enacted laws that require DWI offenders to have an alcohol ignition interlock installed as a condition of their sentence.

The alcohol sensing device is attached to a car's ignition system and keeps the car from starting if the operator is drinking. While the device has been around since the 1970's, today's device is a much more sophisticated version. The design now includes driver identification so that a non drinking driver could not take the test for the drinking driver.

For years, New Mexico lead the nation with the highest fatality rates for alcohol related crashes. Then the law in New Mexico changed and every driver convicted of drunk driving was required to have an alcohol ignition interlock installed on their car. In the years between 2004 and 2008, the rate dropped by 35% and their national rank fell to 25th. Massachusetts requires DWI offenders that have had a second offense to have the device installed.

This fall, congress will debate a law that would mandate that all first time DWI offenders have the device installed. If the law is passed, states that do not adopt the law could lose federal highway money. Currently, 47 states and the District of Columbia have interlock ignition laws for at least some offenders. Only Vermont, Alabama and South Dakota have no such laws. It is believed that there are about 150,000 in use right now and if the law mandating their use is passed, there would be about one million devices in use. Toyota is developing a "fail-safe" system that detects alcohol use by the operator and automatically shuts the car off. Nissan is also developing an alcohol detecting system that will keep drunk drivers from behind the wheel. To date, no American car companies, GM, Ford or Chrysler, have decided to include the device on any American car.

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