Growing movement says answer is both when it comes to solving the DUI problem
LITTLETON, CO—While a study released last week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) indicates growing public support for the use of ignition interlocks on the cars of drunk drivers, a growing body of justice officials and policymakers say the trend is actually dealing with the people—not just the cars—when it comes to mitigating the social and financial costs of the DUI epidemic.
The IIHS report indicates that two-thirds of their survey respondents think the idea of “advanced technology” to stop drunk drivers from operating their cars when intoxicated is “good” or “very good,” though only 40 percent indicated they would be willing to install the technology on their own vehicles. Today, approximately 180,000 interlocks are in use nationwide. And that number is at the core of the debate: Estimates indicate that even in New Mexico, the state with the strictest ignition interlock laws, only 32 percent of offenders required to install interlocks actually do so. The resources to ensure enforcement of the sanction are simply lacking. More than 1.4 million people are arrested for driving under the influence each year, making it the most common cause of arrest in the U.S.
State 24/7 Sobriety Programs Shift the Focus to the Offenders
South Dakota is leading the paradigm shift from strictly sanctioning cars to changing the behavior of offenders long-term. The state has seen an unprecedented 65 percent drop in the rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the last four years, with accompanying reductions in the prison and jail populations. Former South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long, who conceived of and implemented the state’s award-winning 24/7 Sobriety Project in 2005, says the shift is centered on addressing what he calls the root cause of the criminality, which is the alcohol abuse and addiction. “Rather than just ‘requiring’ sobriety, we incorporated stringent testing to ensure it,” says Long. The program mandates that all DUI offenders be sober 24/7, not just when they drive. “What we’ve seen is that effective monitoring, coupled with short but immediate jail time for a violation, is resulting in very high compliance rates,” he says. “We are substantially reducing the burden that these offenders place on their families and their communities.”
Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS) markets a continuous alcohol monitoring system known as SCRAM, which is used along with sheriff-supervised, twice-a-day testing to monitor South Dakota’s DUI offenders. According to AMS Chairman and CEO Mike Iiams, the rapid adoption of their technology in 47 states illustrates the proliferation of programs that are focusing on sobriety and long-term behavior change, but he cautions that there is no single ‘silver bullet’ for fixing the epidemic. “Mandating a single solution is short-sighted,” says Iiams. “Interlocks increase community safety when and while they’re installed. And 24/7 monitoring, coupled with treatment, is showing unparalleled results at reducing both alcohol-related traffic fatalities and the rate of repeat offenses in hardcore offenders,” he says. SCRAM has monitored 110,000 offenders since 2003. “But the reason that first-time offenders become repeat offenders, and repeat offenders become hardcore offenders, is the alcohol abuse and addiction, period. Until the system addresses that effectively, there will be little improvement in the problem.”
The Paradigm Shift at the Policy Level
The Century Council, a nonprofit established by distillers to advocate improved programs to deal with “hardcore” drunk drivers, agrees with IIHS’s assessment that advanced technologies such as the interlock are essential, but expands their recommendation to include a more comprehensive approach that also deals with the driver. And in 2008, a new organization, the National Partnership on Alcohol Misuse and Crime (NPAMC), was established specifically with the mission of re-engineering the way the justice system manages offenders who misuse alcohol, with an emphasis on reducing recidivism, as well as increasing community safety. The partnership includes more than 50 Participating Organizations, including Federal agencies, special interest groups, think tanks, research organizations and corporations, all committed to researching and driving best-practice model programs into courts throughout the country. “The answer to the debate between sanctioning cars and changing people is that we have to do both,” says Iiams. “The DUI issue isn’t an acute issue, it’s chronic, it’s an epidemic, and advanced technologies—for both the offenders and the cars—are changing the way we fight the battle.”
About Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc.
Established in 1997, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. manufactures SCRAM®, the world’s only Continuous Alcohol Monitoring system, which uses non-invasive transdermal analysis to monitor 24/7 for alcohol consumption. SCRAM fully automates the alcohol testing and reporting process, providing courts and community corrections agencies with the ability to continuously monitor alcohol offenders, increase offender accountability and assess compliance with sentencing requirements and treatment guidelines. Launched to the corrections market in 2003, SCRAM has monitored more than 110,000 offenders in 47 states and more than 1,800 jurisdictions. Alcohol Monitoring Systems employs 104 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Littleton, Colorado.