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Ignition interlock device proves its value

As of July 1, first-time DWI offenders in Minnesota who had an alcohol concentration of 0.16 or above and all second-time alcohol offenders can regain their driving privileges faster if they agree to participate in the Minnesota Ignition Interlock Device Program. With this device installed in their car, drivers must blow into a breath analyzer before their vehicle will start, and can be randomly retested as they drive.

The device isn't unobtrusive, nor is the act of blowing into it. A new television ad campaign points out that although DWI offenders might be able keep their driving privileges, the interlock device will create some uncomfortable moments.

In the commercial, the would-be driver tells his boss, "It's my breath-activated CB radio." The boss isn't fooled. "Maybe it's the alternator," the driver says to his attractive female passenger, who throws a disgusted look his way as she gets out of the car.

It's a funny public-service announcement with a serious message, and we hope it is as successful as the ignition interlock system itself appears to be. It started as pilot program in 2007, mostly in Hennepin County and Beltrami County. As of July 1, more than 1,900 Minnesota drivers with DUI offenses  had the devices installed, and only four have re-offended. 

This gives us hope that 2011 can continue a good trend across the state. In 2010, 131 motorists died in alcohol-related accidents on Minnesota roads. That's 21 percent less than five years ago, and is the lowest number on record. Ignition interlock should further reduce the number of alcohol-related tragedies.

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And overall, the news is even better. Last year's total 411 traffic fatalities was the lowest since 1944, and to date, 2011 has seen 50 fewer deaths than last year. Barring a disastrous start to the winter driving season, Minnesota will shatter all previous traffic safety records in 2011.

Unfortunately, we haven't yet heard of an electronic device that will prevent distracted driving. While DWI fatalities plummet, we're afraid that our odds of being "text-ended" at a stoplight are constantly going up.

That's the subject of another public-service announcement, in which a young driver finds himself texting while inside a body bag.

Get the message, folks?

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