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Sanford professor, student push increased use of ignition-interlock devices

Several people in the Sanford School of Public Policy want to help prevent people from making poor decisions when they drink.

Although they may not care whether people who imbibe keep their clothes on, Philip J. Cook, professor of public policy, and Maeve E. Gearing, a doctoral candidate in public policy, want to keep them off the roads.

Cook and Gearing co-authored an op-ed article that ran in the New York Times Monday about ignition-interlock devices. These devices are breathalyzers that attach to the ignition of a car and will prevent the vehicle from starting if the driver is intoxicated, which if widely used could save as many as 750 lives a year, according to a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report estimate.

Currently, eight states require drunk-driving offenders to have ignition-interlock devices installed in their cars and 25 states require repeat offenders to install them, according to the article.

But in 2007, only 146,000 ignition interlocks were in use, they wrote, adding that the reasons were clear: the devices are expensive to install and there is little enforcement or oversight of their installation.

The authors suggest courts connect installing ignition-interlock devices with substance-abuse treatment requirements and only allow offenders to remove the devices when they do not try to start their cars while drunk over an extended time period.

"The ignition interlock could be an extraordinarily effective way to prevent drunk-driving recidivism," Cook and Gearing wrote. "But it can save lives only if we make sure people use it."


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