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Ignition interlocks: more "big brother" coming?

By Scott Tibbs, May 12, 2008

The American Beverage Institute stirred up controversy by using a mug shot of Lindsey Lohan in an advertisement critical of ignition interlock devices. The advertisement casts Lohan as someone who needs an ignition interlock, as opposed to moderate social drinkers who do not.

The first question is whether or not the use of Lohan's image is appropriate. If the mug shot is in the public domain, I do not see a problem with it. Lohan's run ins with the law are well documented and the picture is in the public domain. the ABI is simply using a recognizable drunk driver to make a point about a public policy issue.

The second question is whether the ABI is right on the issue. If the claims made on InterlockFacts.com are accurate, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others are advocating a significant invasion of privacy and growth of the nanny state. From the "What is an Ignition Interlock" page:

The original ignition interlock devices are in-car breathalyzers that measure a driverís blood alcohol concentration (BAC) through a breath sample. If the sample registers above the pre-set levelónormally calibrated between 0.02 and 0.04 percent BACóthe engine will not start.

These devices were originally developed for the most dangerous drunk drivers: high-BAC, repeat offenders. But now anti-alcohol activists have set their sights on forcing interlocks into the cars of the 176 million American adults (21 and older) who drink responsibly. In 2006, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) convened a panel with the sole purpose of investigating new alcohol-sensing technologies specifically targeting citizens who have never been arrested or charged with DWI.

According to InterlockFacts.com, New York and Pennsylvania are considering legislation that would require all cars to have ignition interlock devices installed. As with many such movements, it is probably only a matter of time until this "evolves" from a state issue to a federal issue, with the federal government using highway funds to blackmail states into accepting the federal government's nanny-state agenda. We've already seen this happen with lowering the legal limit for drunk drivers to .08 blood alcohol content. The key, of course, is stopping this movement in the states, before it ever reaches the federal level.

The problem with mandatory interlock devices is it assumes the driver is guilty until proven innocent - you have to prove you are not impaired before you can drive, even if you have never been convicted of driving under the influence. It is a significant intrusion of the nanny state and an invasion of privacy. Furthermore, why should innocent people be required to spend extra money on an interlock device? mandatory interlock devices would be an effective tax increase even on those who do not consume alcohol at all.

The American Beverage Institute's obvious concern is the bottom line: if interlock devices restrict moderate and responsible social drinking, they are going to sell less of their product and will make less money. But the objections to interlock devices, including civil liberties concerns and economic burdens on all car buyers, should not be dismissed as special interest politics. As I have said before, we as a nation have to get away from this notion that alcohol itself is bad and realize that responsible alcohol consumption by legal adults is nothing to be afraid of.