Mandatory Ignition Interlock Laws Save Lives, Study Finds

By May Wilkerson 04/19/16

A recent study found a significant decrease in drunk driving deaths in states that require convicted DUI offenders to use ignition interlocks.

Mandatory Ignition Interlock Laws Save Lives, Study Finds
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State laws that require convicted drunk drivers to take a breathalyzer test before starting their car could save hundreds of lives. According to a new study, “mandatory ignition interlock” laws saved an estimated 915 lives between 2007 and 2013. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found a 15% decrease in drunk driving deaths in states that require convicted DUI offenders to use this technology.

Using National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania compared alcohol-related accident deaths in the 18 U.S. states that required ignition interlocks for anyone convicted of DUI as of 2013, with the number of alcohol-related accident deaths in states without mandatory interlocks. They found a 0.8 decrease in deaths for every 100,000 people each year in states with mandatory interlock laws. This is comparable to the percentage of lives saved by mandatory airbag laws and minimum legal age drinking laws combined.

“These laws are proven feasible and effective, and they are low hanging fruit for the remaining half of states, including Pennsylvania, that don’t have this protection in place yet,” said study lead Elinore J. Kaufman, a student in Penn’s Health Policy master’s degree program. “Our findings show that by preventing intoxicated drivers from starting their vehicles, these ignition interlock laws can directly prevent drunk driving and save lives.” 

Drunk driving accidents kill about 11,000 people every year in the U.S. and alcohol-related accidents make up about 30% of vehicular deaths. A significant portion of these accidents involve drivers with prior DUI convictions. “Although crashes and crash fatalities decline, we’re not seeing a significant reduction in those involving alcohol,” said the study’s senior author, Douglas J. Wiebe, an associate professor of epidemiology in the department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology and a senior scholar in the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

The good news is that more states seem to be getting on board with enacting these potentially lifesaving laws. Said Wiebe: “We’re encouraged by the increasing number of states enacting mandatory interlock laws since 2013 and hope these findings advance public health conversations aimed at saving more lives.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.