Roughly the population of Scotts Valley is killed by drunken driving each year nationwide.
In 2008, more than 35,000 people were killed in motor-vehicle crashes in the U.S., 11,773 of them in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes. This annual number of alcohol-related deaths has held steady for a decade:
Efforts to curtail drinking and driving become more widespread every year to include education, the lowering of the legal blood alcohol content (as of a few years ago, all 50 states had settled on 0.08 percent), and more stringent requirements for minors (in most jurisdictions, any alcohol in the system is a violation).
As in so many other areas of our lives, technology also has been employed to ratchet up the ways we can protect the drivers and occupants of the 238 million vehicles on U.S. roads. Two common tools are the ignition interlock device and the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor. Both are typically used for folks with past drunken-driving convictions.
The IID is small, about the size of a cell phone, and is connected to the wiring of the car so that the vehicle cannot be started until the driver has breathed into the IID. If any alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start. After a short period of time, the driver may again try to pass the test.
Once on the road, the driver must periodically retest on the IID to prove that he or she has not consumed alcohol after starting the car.
As an aside, given the increasing focus on the dangers of using cell phones and text-messaging devices while driving, it seems inadvisable for a driver to comply with the IID requirements while driving. To do so would require them to pull off the road to retest.
Because the IID will not shut off the vehicle once it has started, if the driver does consume alcohol after starting the car and subsequently fails the IID test, he or she would still be able to drive the car. This is one shortcoming of the device, along with the possibility that a passenger might breathe into the device to start the car and again for the periodic checks. On the other hand, one might argue that anyone who would agree to be the sober passenger of a convicted drunken driver who is again under the influence might deserve what they get!
Advocates of the SCRAM argue that the device avoids the shortcomings of the IID. The SCRAM is akin to the electronic ankle bracelets required of sex offenders and others who are continually monitored by law enforcement. It is tamper- and water-resistant and is worn 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a period of time stipulated by the court. It is linked to a modem kept in the offender’s home.
The SCRAM checks for the presence of alcohol in the wearer’s perspiration every 30 minutes and transmits its findings wirelessly to the applicable law enforcement agency or contractor. Purportedly, the device is sensitive enough to measure the level of consumption and distinguish between alcohol that has been consumed and “environmental” alcohol, as found in some lotions.
Of course, neither of these devices alone can combat the whole problem of drunken driving. They must be coupled with treatment and education of offenders and proper follow-up. Critics have pointed to possible over-reliance on technological responses, as well as too much governmental or law enforcement intrusion into privacy. But compared with incarceration (for those not involved in accidents or who haven’t harmed others), blood or urine toxicology testing (which only takes a snapshot of use at that moment), and other measures, they warrant careful consideration.
Fortunately, as a society, we seem to have reached a point where drinking and driving is seen for what it is: dangerous and deadly. The more tools we have at our disposal to deal with this public health issue — social, legal, psychological and technological — the more quickly we can eradicate the problem.
• William Brigham, M.S.W., M.A., of Scotts Valley is administrator of the National Football League Program for Substances of Abuse and father of five daughters. Contact him at [email protected].

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