Editorial: Let’s find a real way to stop drunken driving

Driving isn’t a constitutional right. And the more innocent lives we see lost on our local roadways, the clearer it becomes that it shouldn’t be treated as such.

For some 13 years now, state Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) has been pushing to pass a bill in Albany mandating the installation of ignition interlock devices on motor vehicles manufactured for use in New York — not just for convicted drunk drivers, but for everyone. If the government can mandate safety standards — rendered moot if people are driving drunk — and emissions standards to protect the environment, it can very readily require pre-installed interlock devices.

We’ve written more than enough stories related to drunken driving crashes, have sat with too many shattered families and have come to the conclusion that we stand behind Mr. Ortiz’s efforts. We urge our elected state leaders to do the same. To those who feel they would be wrongly “punished” for the misdeeds of others through such a mandate, it’s hard to imagine how breathing into a tube is punishment. People have to breathe anyway.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30 people in this country are killed every day in crashes involving alcohol — that’s one every 51 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $59 billion. Despite decades of public awareness campaigns and ever-stiffening DWI penalties, the U.S. still registers some 10,000 deaths a year through drinking-related traffic accidents. It’s hard to think of any other way to put a meaningful dent in this number than the across-the-board use of interlock devices. This is technology that is at the ready, not in some far-off development stage.

How many people must die until we start to use it?

Trade groups such as the American Beverage Institute have reportedly called such a measure “radical,” saying it “fails to target the actual drunk driving problem in New York.” Short of a complete societal change when it comes to drinking in New York — which doesn’t seem imminent — common sense should dictate there’s nothing radical about the proposal. The fact is, alcohol affects people’s judgment. Driving under the influence is the result of a bad judgment call. Considering that two more people in this area were just killed in suspected DWI crashes, it’s never been clearer that we need to take a different approach. The sooner we admit that, the better.