In 1996, 17,126 people died on America's roads in alcohol-related accidents. In New York, alcohol plays a role in 34 percent of the city's traffic fatalities. Yet how do we deal with drunk drivers? Prevention is retroactive: stiff financial penalties for drunk drivers take place after a drunk gets caught behind the wheel, or after a crash.
Here's a better way: instead of trying to punish people after they drive drunk, we should encourage them not to do it in the first place, with the help of an innovative device. Called the breathalyzer-activated ignition interlock device, or BAIID for short, it administers a breathalyzer test at the vehicle's point of ignition. Unless the driver passes, his car won't start.
Right now, only repeat drunk drivers ever have to install BAIIDs, but there's a way to expand the use of the device without upsetting libertarians. If government mandated BAIIDs, drivers would see them as violating their freedom. But the typical car owner would install a BAIID if he'd see a significant decrease in insurance premiums. And he would: by agreeing to equip his car with an interlock device, he removes it from the risk pool that, on some estimates, wreaks a staggering $100 billion in damage annually. Further, insurance companies should extend the same premium breaks to all commercial and municipally operated vehicles that agreed to install BAIIDs.
With fewer traffic deaths, society as a whole benefits, while prudent drivers get a substantial break—all without coercion. What's to lose?