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More on interlock devices

By Scott Tibbs, May 13, 2008

As a follow-up to yesterday's post regarding ignition interlock devices, I wanted to address some of the arguments I've seen in favor of (or at least sympathetic to) making the devices mandatory, which I consider to be a significant intrusion of big government into the lives of innocent people.

First, the question is not whether drunk driving is bad and should be prevented. Virtually everyone agrees that drunk driving should be eliminated and that government has a role to play in eliminating it. One of the ways government can fight drunk driving, for example, is the harsher penalties for drunk drivers that were implemented with the urging of MADD starting in the 1980's. The question is how far we go to stop it. Forcing everyone - even people who don't consume alcohol at all - to have an interlock device is too far.

Comparing interlock devices to drivers licenses and skill tests is an apples-to-orange comparison. Obviously, if we're going to allow someone to operate a large mass of steel, plastic and glass on taxpayer-funded roads we need to ensure that person is capable of driving safely. However, forcing someone who has already proven himself to be a competent driver (at least on a skills test) to prove that he/she is not chemically impaired amounts to treating everyone like a criminal. That is in direct conflict with what the American judicial system is supposed to be about.

Ignition interlock devices also cannot be compared to air bags and seat belts. Seat belts do not prevent the use of the automobile if not used by the driver, and an air bag only deploys in the event of an accident as a way to reduce the potential for a fatality. An ignition interlock, however, renders the vehicle itself inoperable. If the device malfunctions or is improperly calibrated, it could cause serious problems for the driver, in addition to being an effective tax increase on all car owners if made mandatory.

To those who support making ignition interlocks mandatory, I ask a simple question: where do you draw the line? We could simply ban the consumption of alcohol in public places, shutting down bars and preventing restaurants from serving beer or wine with meals. We could go a step further and pass legislation making it illegal for a party at a private residence to have alcohol present, as another step against drinking and driving. We could give police the power to set up random checkpoints or pull over any vehicle to test for alcohol. Or we could simply ban alcohol entirely. All of these would reduce drunk driving, but at what cost?

With liberty comes risk. With freedom of speech comes the risk of uncivil or downright nasty speech. With the right to keep and bear arms comes the risk that some will misuse their weapons. With the right to be secure in our persons and papers from unreasonable searches comes the risk that following proper procedure will give a criminal time to dispose of evidence and stay on the streets. With the liberty to drive an automobile comes the risk that someone will abuse that privilege through speeding or by driving while chemically impaired. Unless we're willing to live in an authoritarian police state, we have to accept those risks as a part of life.