Sunday, August 07, 2005


Two sessions ago in the New Mexico legislature, W. Ken Martinez, legislator from Grants, proposed an Interlock on all motor vehicles registered in New Mexico. The proposal was rejected. This last session, Mr. Martinez proposed an Interlock on all motor vehicles used by first-time DWI convicts. That measure passed. To his credit, Mr. Martinez made sure that the "Interlock" could include any technology which would accomplish the purpose (preventing an impaired driver from operating the vehicle).

Sandia Base scientists were working on a device that required the proposed driver to lay her wrist on a plate, in order to use the ignition key and start the vehicle. The plate would record the blood-alcohol content in the brain (by calculation) and the key would not work for a person with a certain BA level. Good idea, and there must be many more devices out there which would accomplish the purpose. Expand the idea to preventing operation of the motor vehicle by any impaired (by drugs; fatigue; alcohol; etc.) driver.

Next step, and better on a national level. No new motor vehicle to be registered in the United States unless it has an "Interlock." Is not such a device as important as air bags, if not as important as seat belts? Why should a manufacturer be allowed to sell a huge truck or truck and trailer for tens of thousands of dollars, without including an "Interlock," which would add perhaps a few hundred dollars to the price? Why should an owner be allowed to operate such a huge vehicle on our highways with an impaired driver?

Same issue with those who want to go 75 miles per hour in an SUV or pickup truck. Why should they be allowed to put the vehicle on the highway without this safeguard: cannot be operated by an impaired driver? We go to great lengths to keep unqualified drivers off the road, with drivers' licenses. Then we purport to revoke the license (punish a convict for DWI) as a law enforcement measure. Perhaps we are on the wrong track. If it is within our ability and means, why not a safety feature such as this?

The device could check the driver periodically, and disable (carefully) the vehicle until it could be operated by an unimpaired driver. A true "field" sobriety test. Except that it also stops operation by drivers who are fatigued, impaired by drugs, too sleepy for safety, or otherwise unable to operate heavy machinery at high speeds with safety for others (think semi on your tail on the freeway).

New Mexico was not ready two years ago when W. Ken Martinez came forward with the proposal. He was right, but only a little ahead of his time. With his expanded definition of "Interlock," which invites and promotes innovations by the best minds and vehicle engineers, he is now right on time.

Mr. Martinez should try again, with the aid of Governor Bill Richardson, in this special session. The requirement could be limited in New Mexico to new vehicles registered in New Mexico. If you can buy a new car, can you not afford this safeguard? That will encourage innovations and new technologies for the purpose. Part of the expense when the device is used as a punishment, is the monitoring. That would not be necessary with some technology, or at least would not need to be as intensive as necessary with punishment.

Getting the national government into the act may be the best answer now, as we would expand the options from a modification of the ignition system on all motor vehicles registered in New Mexico, to factory installed "Interlocks" which would go into the new vehicles along with air bags, seat belts, and turn signals, mechanisms that prevent the starting of the engine while the vehicle is in gear, devices that tell us when a door is open, etc. If the federals will not do it now, New Mexico can lead the way. Grants from the federal government could be expected.

At first blush one would think that an operator who wanted more freedom would simply disable the device. That would be an unpopular crime, looked on with disfavor by most of the jurors, sort of like hitting a toddler in the face with the fist. Not like buying a radar detector (looked on with disfavor by many).

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