By CATHY MOUNCE, Register Staff Writer
Members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have announced new recommendations in their continued quest to end drunk driving.
During the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, alcohol is a common theme in many celebratory activities throughout the nation and state, and, therefore, many Texans unnecessarily die in vehicular accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers.
This past week, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials announced several new recommendations relating to drunk driving, including lowering the national blood alcohol content (BAC) standard from .08 to .05.
According to MADD Executive Director Jeff Miracle, the original fight to have the BAC altered to its present level of .08 was a hard-fought battle that took 20 years to achieve, as the law was eventually signed into effect by President Bill Clinton.
“Although we believe lowering the BAC to .05 would save lives, we have set in motion a campaign consisting of three other grass roots initiatives that we believe can be accomplished more quickly,” Miracle said. “We propose that there are three immediate actions, two of which are already in place, that could more quickly reduce fatalities caused by drunk driving.”
Miracle said the first action has had a high success rate and involves a high visibility of law enforcement. The second action, passed in every state, involves a mandatory ignition interlock device (IID) for all first-time convicted drunk drivers. Miracle said an IID is a mechanism similar to a breath analyzer which is installed in a vehicle to deter drinking and driving. Before starting the vehicle, the driver must deliver a breath sample into the device. If the analyzed sample shows a higher-than-programmed BAC, the device prevents the vehicle from being started.
Regarding Texas law on mandated IID installation: the Texas Penal Code of Criminal Procedures included, “For second or subsequent offenses or having a BAC greater that .15: The court must order offender to install IIDs in all owned vehicles for one year following a period of license suspension. When applying for occupational licenses, the court may require a first offender and must require subsequent offenders within 10 years to only operate vehicles that are equipped with IIDs.”
And according to information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the ignition interlock law could save 1,000 lives per year.
Additional data from MADD states that more than 100 million Americans are now better protected in states requiring these devices for all convicted drunk drivers.
The third initiative on the MADD campaign concerns the future development of advanced technology, such as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS).
Once the DADSS development is complete, Miracle said, the device will stop a drunk driver with a BAC of .08 or higher from driving the cars of the future. Use of the DADSS could save 7,000 lives each year, according to the IIHS.
According to the MADD home page, the U.S. Congress made good of its commitment to the MADD campaign by contributing more than $50 million to MADD activities, including the DADSS program.
The efforts have received several endorsements from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the NTSB, AAA, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association and the National Football League. These organizations support the three major campaign initiatives that are part of the current MADD campaign while maintaining a single national BAC standard.
“We know that lowering the BAC could reduce fatalities but that benefit could take several years to achieve,” Miracle said. “It may curtail the current initiatives that are saving even more lives today.”
Cooke County Sheriff Terry Gilbert, whose agency deals with intoxicated drivers on a daily basis, said he supported the initiatives in progress.
“I am for anything that can keep drunk drivers off the road and provide safer driving conditions for our citizens,” he said.