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Ready for a breathalyzer in <i>your</i> car?

Hillary Wicai Nov 20, 2006

Ready for a breathalyzer in <i>your</i> car?

Hillary Wicai Nov 20, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The federal government is set to spend $7 million next month to remind you drunk driving can land you in jail. But carmakers and the insurance industry have teamed up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to say advertising alone won’t save lives. MADD annouced a campaign today to change drunk driving laws. And drunk driving technology. Marketplace’s Hillary Wicai has that story.

HILLARY WICAI: About 13,000 people die each year in drunk-driving crashes. So Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, wants all cars owned by convicted drunk drivers to include an ignition interlock — that’s a breathalyzer test. If alcohol is detected, the car won’t start. Many states require them for repeat offenders. But Glynn Birch of MADD says even first-time offenders should have them.

GLYNN BIRCH: And the public is behind us on this: 65 percent agree that a mandatory ignition interlock should go on every drunk driver.

But MADD doesn’t want to stop there and neither does the insurance industry, which ends up footing the bill for alcohol-related accidents. Susan Ferguson is with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

SUSAN FERGUSON: So, ultimately, if we want to really eliminate drinking and driving, we need to have an in-vehicle device that for every driver every time they start their car will unobtrusively, quickly, and accurately determine if they’ve been drinking.

Automakers are also on board, as long as customers are kept in mind. Charles Territo is with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He says steering wheels that test drivers’ palms for sobriety are in the works but don’t exist yet. And making a teetotaler blow into a tube every time she wants to start her car won’t fly.

CHARLES TERRITO: New technology can’t hassle the sober driver. It will need to be small, quick, noninvasive, accurate, reliable, foolproof, durable, easy to maintain and most importantly, supported by the public.

But public support might also rest with how much it’s going to cost them. That remains to be seen. It could be as long as 10 years before a foolproof technology is developed.

In Washington, I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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