A Possible Solution to Drunken Driving
Jan. 17, 2000 (Atlanta) -- About three in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives, and thousands more will lose their lives to a drunken driver. Although impaired driving is going down in many areas, it is still a public health threat of epidemic proportions. More needs to be done to stop it, but what?
For a while now, some areas have been using what are called breath alcohol ignition interlock devices on the cars of some people convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). Before a driver can start the car, they must blow into the device. It measures the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the person, and if it is above a certain limit, a warning will be recorded, or if the level is higher, the car will not start.
In recent years, a couple of modifications have been made. Drivers are required to use them at different points while driving, so someone else can't simply start the car for them. And, the interlocks also now come with recording devices to compile data on failure and driving patterns.
This last feature was used by a team of researchers from Maryland and Alberta, Canada, to see, as they wrote in a recent issue of the journal Addiction, if "this event recorder is a useful outcome measure for a behavioral intervention." In short, did this device actually change behavior?
The use of the interlock devices has a purpose for DUI offenders, even before trying to alter behavior, says lead author Paul R. Marques, PhD. "You have this problem of wanting to do something that keeps [DUI offenders] invested in being legal while also wanting to have some control over their DUI behavior, their drinking and driving. So it's better in some respects than impounding vehicles, because it allows a person to continue to work legitimately [and] it doesn't deprive the family members of the vehicle," Marques tells WebMD. Marques is with the Public Services Research Center at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Landover, Maryland.
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.