Steve Chapman

That isn't terribly surprising. People who get behind the wheel of a two-ton machine when they're under the influence tend to be people with serious alcohol problems, and they tend to keep driving drunk as long as we let them. Suspending their licenses deters some, but Mothers Against Drunk Driving says research indicates that about three out of every four keep driving anyway. As MADD CEO Chuck Hurley puts it, "We need to find a way to separate their hands from the steering wheel."

Interlocks are the obvious solution. But so far, only four states have mandated them for all first offenders upon conviction.

Even then, they're not an insuperable obstacle. Determined sots can hotwire their cars, borrow vehicles or have someone else -- such as a child -- blow untainted carbon dioxide into the devices. Another problem, says O'Connor, is that some offenders claim to have gotten rid of their cars, signing them over to friends or relatives but retaining surreptitious use of them.

Still, the requirement does work to prevent a lot of impaired driving. And it puts no burden on taxpayers, since offenders bear the $1,000-a-year cost.

It also has benefits for the culprits. In most states, the standard method for stopping drunk drivers is to revoke their licenses so they aren't allowed to drive at all. Under this policy, they may drive all they want as long as they're stone cold sober. It incapacitates the incorrigible while sparing the repentant. A canceled license, which lets the offender police his own conduct, does just the opposite.

In 2006, more than 14,000 people across the country died in accidents involving drunk drivers. If that number strikes you as too high, interlocks for all DWI offenders is one proven way to lower it. If 14,000 sounds about right, though, then the status quo is just perfect.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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