In one of the most bizarre legislative moves ever seriously contemplated, a New York Assemblyman has proposed that every driver in New York should pass an alcohol breath test every time they start their car - anyplace, anytime and regardless of whether they drink at all, let alone responsibly.
The legislation would require the retro-fitting of breathalyser ignition locks to every car in New York - the cost to install such devices has been estimated to be up to US$1,000 per automobile, and would require New Yorkers to re-perform the test every 20 to 40 minutes while driving.
If passed, it will be one of the most expensive, intrusive and ineffective bills in history and is another classic case of ill-considered legislation.
Data from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that the overwhelming majority of drunk driving fatalities are caused by a very small population of alcohol abusers and repeat offenders.
The man who proposed the bill, New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz recently proclaimed that 'drinking and driving should not be a choice,' seemingly ignoring the fact that it is legal and acceptable for adults to drink responsibly prior to driving. In fact, 25 million Americans do so regularly.
The unfortunate aspect to all this misplaced good intention on behalf of Assemblyman Ortiz is that it might give breathalyser-fitted ignition locks some type of sinister reputation when in fact they are one of the most effective social safeguards when used intelligently.
The leading supplier of these products in the Australian marketplace is Draeger which produces the Interlock XT. The Interlock XT is a breath-alcohol-controlled vehicle immobiliser that is used to permit the start a motor vehicle only after a successful breath alcohol test by the driver. The vehicle will not start if the driver has a breath alcohol concentration above a pre-set level. In the case of legislative implementation of the Interlock, this is set at .02 and it can also be set in voluntary fitting situations to any required level.
Purchasing the Interlock XT costs AUD$1500 to buy and fitting is AUD$120 or the unit can be rented for under AUD$100 a month. The only additional cost involved is that the unit needs recalibration every six months.
Interestingly, all of the States of Australia use the Interlock but each in a different way.
In Victoria, the fitting of an Interlock device is mandatory for repeat drink-drive offenders and first timers who have registered a blood alcohol reading over 0.15 when they wish to obtain a license after their cancellation/suspension periods. Programs with the Interlock fitted run from six months to three years.
South Australia and NSW have a voluntary legislative program in place where a convicted driver can forgo half their license cancellation period by fitting an Interlock device for double the saved suspension time.
Western Australia is still publicly discussing its proposed program, and one of the likely outcomes is a move designed to get offending drivers on an Interlock program as soon as possible with the possibility of deferring or even suspending any fines in order to encourage drivers to fit the Interlock - the program is designed to educate and inform, with all the sting in the tail - transgress after the first chance and you'll be walking for a very long time.
One of the growth areas for Draeger in selling the Interlocks is the voluntary fitting of the devices. Some companies are now ensuring the safety of their assets by fitting interlocks to ensure company vehicles are not driven under the influence - partly for the safety of their employees and assets, and partly to safeguard the company's risk exposure - insurance policies often become become null and void when alcohol enters the equation.
Then there's the occupational lock-out which can be administered by the Interlock, which will render the company vehicle immobile at certain times of the day or week - the rules can be set to assist employees with a drinking problem or to ensure that a car is only used at certain times.
There's also a growing trend for the family car to be fitted with an Interlock when a family member is in the first years of driving - the Interlock has an override pin-number so the vehicle can be used normally when not in use by the novice driver.
Moves are also afoot to have insurance companies offer a rebate to P-platers if they have the Interlock installed on their designated vehicle.
For those who would like to check their blood alcohol levels and make their decisions without some form of compulsion, we suggest Draeger's Sobercheck