Interlock not responsible for safer roads

December 02, 2010

Your editorial of Dec. 2 declares that the "Interlock program works." Further in the piece is proffered the only support that has been given, repeatedly, for this claim, the experience of New Mexico. In mid-June 2005 New Mexico passed legislation that imposed ignition interlock systems on any driver found guilty of DUI. Mathematically inclined as I am, I consulted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database to verify the remarkable efficacy of this intervention. Sure enough, for each year from 2005 through to 2008 road fatalities in which someone had consumed alcohol declined.

But then I noted that for the same years, road deaths in which no alcohol had been consumed had similarly declined. If all deaths were declining, how can it be inferred that the ignition interlock intervention had made any difference at all?

Indeed, during the same period in Maryland, road deaths of both types also declined. Maryland got the same results without the law that The Sun and others desperately desire.

In 2009 the numbers of New Mexico alcohol deaths jumped above the 2008 level. Moreover, the 2009 deaths were a greater fraction of total road deaths in New Mexico. Did New Mexico repeal its law?

If only proper scrutiny were to be given to the unexamined assumption that alcohol, if present, is a prima facie cause of road mishaps, and if only we were capable of eschewing decades of biased propaganda in favor of a nuanced and honestly researched position on the problem of drunk driving, then will our statistics start to make sense, and then will we be able to intelligently address the problem.

George F. Reed, Columbia

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