This week California became one of the few states in the nation to require some of its first-time drunken driving offenders to install alcohol detection technology in their cars, a move advocates for the devices hope will spread to the rest of the country.
But opponents of the in-car breathalyzers don't believe first-time offenders should be punished to the same degree as habitual drunken drivers, saying alcohol detection devices should only be installed in the worst-case scenarios.
Anti drunk driving groups ,like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, disagree.
"The single best way to get drunken drivers off the road right now is to get interlock ignition devices in the cars of all convicted drunken drivers," said Chuck Hurley, the CEO of MADD.
"We expect California to become a model for the nation and that for all 50 states to have similar laws mandating first-time convicted drunken drivers to have the devices installed in their cars in the next three to five years," said Hurley.
An alcohol ignition interlock requires a driver to blow into the device and register a blood alcohol reading that is below a predetermined level. If the driver exceeds the level, the vehicle will not start. Data recorded by the device is also uploaded to the driver's Department of Motor Vehicles or to a court system, depending on the law.
California's pilot program, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Sunday, will require interlock devices in cars of first-time offenders in four counties, including Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Tulare, beginning next summer. The success rate of the trial will determine whether additional legislation will be proposed that would expand the law to the rest of the state.
While the majority of states permit the use of interlock ignition devices for repeat drunken driving offenders, only 11 other states require, with a few exemptions, the interlock devices to be installed in cars of first-time offenders.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 11,773 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2008, accounting for 32 percent of the total motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S.
Just last weekend, an 11-year-old New York girl was killed and two others were injured when they were thrown from a car driven by a mother who police say had more than double the legal blood alcohol level.
And in July, Diane Schuler, 36, killed eight people including herself when she drove the wrong way down a New York parkway. Schuler had a blood alcohol content of .19, more than double the legal limit of .08, according to the Westchester County medical examiner.
Hurley said MADD supports the interlock ignition devices for first-time convicted drunken drivers because more often than not, those drivers have driven while intoxicated prior to the instance when they were caught.
"The best science indicates that when people are convicted for the first time, it wasn't the first time they drove drunk. The average shows they've driven drunk 87 times before," said Hurley. "This isn't their first rodeo."
But not everyone believes in mandating ignition locks for first-time offenders.