Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s latest ranking of state drunken-driving laws shows we still have a long way to go.
Even as self-driving cars inch closer to becoming a reality that could possibly eliminate the problem of drunken driving someday, MADD’s annual report points up how many states — we’re talking to you, Montana — fail to take even small, sensible steps that could reduce the carnage on our streets.
And yet the report also shows the beneficial impact of enacting various measures, such as laws that require offenders to use interlock devices. These are in-car devices that work like the Breathalyzer test to determine whether a person’s blood alcohol level is at the illegal threshold of 0.08 percent. If so, the interlock prevents the vehicle from starting.
MADD — which has been pushing for laws that require all offenders, not just repeat offenders, to install the devices in their cars — says there is ample evidence of their efficacy. Since their introduction in West Virginia, which passed a law in 2008 requiring all offenders to use interlocks, drunken-driving fatalities there have dropped by more than 52 percent.
MADD would like those devices to go on a suspected offender’s vehicle right after an arrest — not after a conviction. The group says further gains would also be possible if more states also tweaked their laws on the standards an offender has to meet to have the device removed from their vehicle.
Every state has regulations that penalize people for trying to start the vehicle despite using alcohol that triggers a lockout, MADD says. But the organization says offenders should have to earn their way off the devices by showing that they have been completely sober — no recordable violations such as blowing an 0.08 percent on the device — for the final three months of their sentenced term of use.
The organization is betting that similar but more advanced technology is on the way that would prevent everyone’s car from starting if illegal levels of alcohol are detected. The technology — known as Driver Alcohol Detection System, or DADSS — is designed to be unobtrusive, based on touch or breath. It’s still in development, but MADD said Tuesday that Virginia — which kicked in $20 million for the program — has a pilot program in the works that could be rolled out this year or next.
In addition to campaigning for wider use of interlock devices and newer technology, MADD continues to champion the use of sobriety checkpoints, saying studies have shown that these can reduce drunken-driving crashes by 20 percent. But the organization also says law enforcement in some states have curtailed their use because of budgetary constraints or concerns that the checkpoints can be evaded with the use of social media. The group also called for the immediate revocation of a driver’s license at the time of a DUI arrest, when the person is awaiting trial. It also urges immediate revocation for driver’s licenses for any person who refuses to take a Breathalyzer test.
Since MADD’s founding in 1980, drunken-driving deaths have declined by about a third. In 2016, even as the overall total of alcohol-related traffic deaths increased in total numbers — largely because the strong economy has more people on the road — the percentage of drunken-driving deaths, compared with all traffic deaths, fell to 28 percent. That’s the lowest ever, J.T. Griffin, MADD’s chief government affairs officer, said in an email.
And yet drinking and driving remains the leading cause of traffic fatalities, Griffin said. More than 10,000 people still die every year in drunken-driving wrecks, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“We are not discouraged, but more convinced that the countermeasures we are promoting point to the right course of action,” Griffin said, when asked about the high toll in light of the long-running campaign to reduce alcohol-related fatalities. “States that are passing the laws we recommend are seeing fewer drunken-driving deaths than states that are failing to take action.”
The Washington metropolitan area scored fairly well: The District, which passed a law in 2016 requiring all offenders to use interlocks, was rated a 3; Maryland — whose recently passed Noah’s Law was called a national model — received a score of 4.5; and Virginia, which was singled out for its funding support on DADSS, earned a 3.5.
To see how your state rates, you can reach the full report here: MADD Campaign Report 2018