NTSB pushes car breathalyzers for drunken drivers

Dec. 11, 2012 @ 05:13 PM

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended states require all convicted drunk drivers to fit their vehicles with a device that prevents engine ignition if the person has been drinking.

These ignition interlock devices allow a driver to start the vehicle only if a breathalyzer test shows a minimum blood-alcohol concentration, states an NTSB press release.

Statistics show that a third of the nation's 32,000 average annual drunk driving accidents are caused by people with prior DWI convictions, stated the release. Drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated are required to fit their cars with these devices according to laws in 17 states.

North Carolina has a similar law, but is not as broad as the NTSB proposal. The General Assembly passed NCGS 20-17.8 which requires drivers with a blood-alcohol level of .15 or habitual impaired driving convictions to use interlock devices once their license is restored, Sen. Tommy Tucker said.

Individuals pay a monthly fee for the device and must have it regularly calibrated, Tucker said.

But the NTSB recommendation is for all convicted, even first time offenders. But that requirement begs important questions of cost, responsibility and jurisdiction, Rep. Frank McGuirt said.

"The problem that comes with that is the cost," McGuirt said. "Does the state pay for it, or does the defendant?"

Rep. Craig Horn said there has been discussion about mandatory dash-mounted breathalyzers in the House, but he still gets calls from people who oppose such legislation.

"There are constituents who argue that it's giving the government too much power," Horn said. "They say it lets the government stick their nose where it doesn't belong."

Neither Horn or McGuirt knew of any upcoming legislation proposing a wider reach for interlock device requirements.

The NTSB made the recommendation after reviewing a study of wrong-way highway accidents. The NTSB also suggested car manufacturers begin invent equipment to put in new cars that will test a driver's alcohol concentration using an infrared light. If the concentration is too high, the engine will not start.