Saturday, August 19, 2006


It may be said that cars take lives and cars save lives. Jim Belshaw, of the Albuquerque Journal, in his column for Sunday, August 13, 2006, points out how highway deaths have dropped in recent years, and attributes that drop largely to safer cars. He cites automotive design changes, especially air bags. He laments that the people who drive the cars are not safer (driving skills or habits not improving as the cars become safer). Seat belts and air bags prevent injuries and death. Who opposes those safety features being imposed by law?

It is time to revisit the idea put forth by W. Ken Martinez, legislator from Grants. He offered a bill that would require all motor vehicles to be outfitted with an interlock as a condition of registration in New Mexico. Many thought his bill went too far, and punished the innocent. They had no problem with an interlock on the automobile of one convicted of driving while under the influence, but opposed a universal interlock.

Martinez is a reasonable man and an attorney. He took what he could get and the result was an interlock for the vehicles of those convicted of DWI. Martinez was well aware that technology moves fast, so he worded the legislation to require an interlock, but defined the term to include future technology which would produce the same or a better result than the Interlock, which we understand is patented. This broad definition of “interlock” gives encouragement to those working on, or who will work on, technology to accomplish the purpose better and at a lower price.

For example, at Sandia Labs they were working on a small metal plate which would detect alcohol content of blood through the skin of the driver. Lay your wrist on the plate, get a safe blood-alcohol reading, and you are able to start your vehicle (or keep it running). It is reasonable to expect that motor vehicles could be outfitted with an effective, tamper-proof device that would make it impossible for a person with a certain blood-alcohol level (or who is otherwise impaired) to start or continue to operate a motor vehicle. Tractors; cranes; 18 wheelers; dump trucks; motorcycles; automobiles; etc.

Our legislature could follow Ken Martinez and take the lead in the nation, say, by requiring all new motor vehicles, starting with 2010 models, to have a factory installed interlock, if they are to be registered in this State. The federal government could also act and make the interlock a safety feature just as the seatbelt. Our Legislature could forego passing the law, and merely pass a resolution urging Congress to require the interlock (interstate commerce).

A child of tender age cannot open pill bottles; why should an impaired person be able to operate a motor vehicle?