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Editorial: Interlocks save lives

As drunk driving prevention goes, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are more like the grandmothers of the awareness movement.

Those of a certain age may remember when impaired driving didn’t even appear in For the Record and such infractions were a matter for sweeping under the rug rather than community outrage.

The lion’s share of the credit for making the roads a safer place for drivers and pedestrians goes to MADD, and other organizations like Every 15 Minutes that have spawned in its wake.

They’ve been substantially responsible for getting law enforcement to take the issue seriously, making bartenders responsible for the consequences of overserving customers who do damage behind the wheel, and persuading most people who drink to bring along a designated driver.

They’ve also played a major role in requiring ignition interlocks be installed on vehicles of those who are convicted of drunk driving.

Oregon, among other states, requires the devices be used by anyone convicted of driving under the influence, even first-time offenders who enter diversion.

Diversion is a process whereby first-time offenders can avoid having a criminal offense on their records by complying with a strict set of requirements. In Oregon’s case, that includes an ignition interlock.

But House Bill 4026, authored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski would create an exemption to that requirement on medical grounds.

The bill doesn’t specifically list those grounds, but the most obvious that come to mind are conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema or chronic bronchitis — anything that might prevent the offender from blowing forcefully enough to register their breath on the interlock.

Clearly, this bill is meant as a sympathetic accommodation for individuals with limited physical capabilities.

But we have to wonder whether that sympathy might be better reserved for the families of people who have been maimed or killed by someone who didn’t have the sense to stay off the road after a few too many.

It’s no surprise that MADD has come out strongly against the bill. It’s also faced a host of opposition from other interested parties that practically promise it will be dead on arrival. But Sen. Prozanski has promised to fight on.

The Centers for Disease Control’s analysis of 11 different studies on the subject concluded: “The installation of ignition interlocks was associated consistently with large reductions in re-arrest rates for alcohol-impaired driving within both the earlier and later bodies of evidence. Following removal of interlocks, re-arrest rates reverted to levels similar to those for comparison groups.”

Since implementation of the interlocks law in 2008, Oregon has seen a decline in drunk driving deaths of 42.7 percent, twice the national decline.

“First-time” offenders are rarely first-time drunk drivers, MADD’s statement noted. “Conservative estimates show that a first-time convicted DUII offender has driven drunk at least 80 times prior to being arrested.”

Between the time For the Record started reporting them and 2008, the blotter was full of offenders who lost their licenses but continued to drive — and often drive drunk. Since then, the numbers have declined, making our roads safer.

The best answer for offenders who can’t use an ignition interlock is to find alternative transportation, not to continue to put others at risk.

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