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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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A Possible Solution to Drunken Driving


Marques and colleagues followed over 1,300 first-time and multiple DUI offenders in Ottawa, Canada, who voluntarily agreed to install interlock devices on their cars in order to shorten their license suspension. Depending on the severity of their sentence, the locks could be on the cars anywhere from about 7 to 18 months, sometimes longer. The researchers then compiled data from three million breath tests from 1995 to 1997.

Marques writes that fewer than 1% of all the BAC tests resulted in a warning or a failure, and as the drivers learned how to accommodate the devices, there was an "overall halving of the proportion of warnings and failures" over the interlock period. But there's a catch.

"These devices really do work well to lower repeat DUI offenses as long as they're in the car, but as soon as you take them off the car, they [DUI offenders] go right back up to control levels, they don't sort of take anything with them after having their behavior monitored. ... They don't seem to learn," Marques tells WebMD.

So the next step, Marques says, "was to try and implement a program where we get inside their heads a little bit while we essentially have them captive of the interlock program."

The drivers were split into two groups, one from Edmonton and one from Calgary. Every month, when the Calgary group visited an interlock service center, they underwent a four-part program that includededucation about the interlock. That "force[d] them to think about the pragmatic implications of staying compliant with the program, by using a technique known as brief intervention and motivational interviewing," Marques says.

The sessions weren't therapy, in that the interviewers had no interest in getting the participants to stop drinking. Although worthy, the issue is one of public, not individual, health, Marques says. "It [turned] into more of a public health problem, because we don't want you guys out there drinking and driving because then we're all at risk."

The peak times for fail rates were on weekends, which kept drunken drivers off the roads at the highest risk times, and surprisingly, between seven and eight in the morning. The researchers write some of that could be attributed, perhaps, to mouthwash or certain foods. But there's another reason, too, and this one can benefit not just the public, but the individual.

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