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Joe Guzzardi: New technology, innovation works to fight drunk driving

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Posted: Saturday, November 2, 2013 12:00 am

Lodi Mayor Alan Nakanishi described Oct. 22, the day when six were killed and several others injured in a tragic six-car crash, “a black day.” Even more than 2,500 miles away in Pittsburgh, I share the pain and horror of my former friends and neighbors.

Drinking and driving is a deadly combination. The reality of it rarely hits home until one of our loved ones becomes a victim. Drunk driving statistics are shocking and should encourage anyone who has friends who drive while intoxicated to intervene before the inevitable occurs.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, every 53 minutes on average a drunk driver crash kills someone — 9,878 people in total in 2011. Every 90 seconds, someone is injured.

On any given day, our families share the roadways with more than 2 million drunk drivers who have had three or more prior convictions. Suspending licenses isn’t the solution; about 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license.

During their lifetime, one in every three persons will be involved in a vehicular incident caused by a drunk driver who likely has driven under the influence 80 times before his first arrest.

If convicted, Lodi suspect Ryan Morales may fit the MADD profile. On Sept. 3, Morales was released from prison, where he was serving a 16-month sentence for evading police. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Morales began his sentence at San Quentin Prison last April 17 for a felony vehicle code conviction in Alameda County. The criminal complaint states that Morales fled twice from Fremont police on Jan. 1, in both cases driving in the opposite direction of traffic. Morales, also charged with driving without a license and possessing a syringe, admitted to the charges.

After the crash, local investigators say they found 3 empty 750 ML vodka bottles in Morales’ car; his mother confirmed that Morales and his father had been drinking an hour and a half before the crash, according to a police report.

MADD is proactive in the fight against driving under the influence. The organization urges people to contact their legislators to make ignition interlock devices mandatory for any convicted drunk driver. An ignition interlock is cellphone-sized attachment into which the driver must blow. If a measurable amount of alcohol is found in his system, the car won’t start. Currently, there are 305,000 interlocks in use.

In Oregon, Arizona, Louisiana and New Mexico, drunken driving deaths dropped by more than 30 percent after their states passed all-offender interlock laws. Research conducted by the Center for Disease Control found that interlocks reduce repeat offenses by two-thirds.

California has an ongoing pilot ignition interlock program in four counties: Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare. The program will expire at the end of 2015.

More scientific advances are on the way. In 2006, MADD, the federal government, traffic safety advocates and the automotive industry created a panel to develop additional new technology that would stop drivers from operating a vehicle if drunk. The result is Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.

Two programs are in the exploratory stage. One is a touch-based system that reads blood alcohol concentration through fingertips, and the other is an air-sampling system that can test and isolate the air exhaled by the driver. Both systems will soon be tested in actual vehicles.

More information is available on the MADD website at www.madd.org.

Joe Guzzardi taught driver’s education at the Lodi Unified School District. He retired in 2008. Contact Joe at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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