Ohio senator: Stop drunk driving before it starts

Published 10:01 am Friday, February 4, 2011

On Wednesday, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown discussed the importance of adding one more line of defense in the battle against drunk drivers.

The senator was also joined by Doug Scoles, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Ohio and Steve Westcott, an Oxford Township firefighter who, while off-duty and on his way to teach fire and EMS classes, recently helped Erie County law enforcement officials apprehend a nine-time drunk driver.

His proposed line of defense, the ROADS SAFE Act, would create a partnership between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, auto makers and anti-drunk driving advocates to develop technologies that prevent drunk drivers from even turning the keys to start a car, Brown said.

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“Existing devices such as ignition locks can be expensive and obtrusive. They don’t always work,” Brown said. “With the help of the ROADS SAFE Act, the public-private partnership will make next generation technology devices smaller and less noticeable. Perhaps most importantly, it would help parents who could choose to install safety devices in the car of their driving age child.”

Doug Scoles of MADD said in 1990, about 32,000 people were dying annually because of alcohol-related vehicle accidents.

“In just 20 short years, across the country, we were able to reduce the number of fatalities from drunk driving from about 32,000 down to about just less than 9,000 in 2009,” Scoles said. “We’ve passed many laws, taken a lot of prevention education program to the students, to the public and everybody’s aware of it. But what we’re finding here is this last 8-9,000 people are still driving drunk anyway. We have to do something that’s going to stop this.”

He continued by saying, “No more laws are going to be able to take them off the road. The technology is the key component of this. The ROADS SAFE Act supports the funding and research for this program, which can detect alcohol through infrared technology, transthermal technology, touch. It can detect alcohol at a .08 level or higher; the car will simply not operate.”

Brown said that it was still unclear if the potential device would be mandated in vehicles of repeat offenders, but that he hoped as the price would decrease on such a product, people would choose to have them put in their cars.

The bill was initially introduced last year by Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bob Corker (R-TN) but was but on hold. Brown said that he hopes the legislation will move quickly this year.

“A person will drive drunk for one reason, because they can,” Scoles said. “If we can stop that from happening, we can completely eliminate the crime of drunk driving and the fatalities that go with that.”