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Study: Ignition interlocks do reduce fatal drunk driving crashes

In Tennessee, people who are convicted of DUI offenses are typically required to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle -- at their own expense. These devices are a bit like Breathalyzers and won't allow the vehicle to start until the driver provides a clean breath sample. Installation, maintenance and removal all have costs, however, and a single year's expense for an ignition interlock could easily exceed $1,000.

Requiring an ignition interlock is among the many tough requirements Tennessee places on DUI offenders. Others include possible jail time, license revocation, drug and alcohol treatment, fines, towing, court costs, restitution and mandatory high-risk insurance.

When the government first sets these requirements, it can sometimes be unclear whether they will have the intended deterrent effect. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that ignition interlocks do.

According to the study, states like Tennessee where ignition interlocks are required for all DUI offenders saw a distinct drop in traffic fatalities associated with drunk driving. How big a drop? Around 16 percent.

In 2016, some 10,497 people were killed in crashes involving at least one driver who was above the legal limit for alcohol. That accounts for 28 percent of all traffic fatalities. Moreover, 46 percent of pedestrian traffic fatalities are tied to alcohol.

Most states also work to prevent drunk driving crashes through safety programs, education and law enforcement initiatives. However, the Governors Highway Safety Association urges more states to adopt mandatory ignition interlock device (IID) laws.

"As a nation, we need to be doing more to address this fundamental traffic safety challenge," said the group's executive director, "and IID use is at the top of the list of proven strategies."

No one wants to be involved in a DUI crash, especially one with injuries or fatalities. The unfortunate reality is, however, that some people do get arrested for a second or subsequent DUI, and some of those arrests are the result of a crash. Ignition interlock devices are one way to help people avoid driving while intoxicated, and it seems they are effective.

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