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Advocates want to change Md., D.C. drunk driving law

Wednesday - 12/18/2013, 8:02am  ET

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LifeSafer state director Bill Chastain demonstrates the LifeSafer, a blood alcohol concentration tester. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WASHINGTON - Drunk driving kills - and that doesn't change around the holidays.

According to Jan Withers with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 20 states now require all convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device. In Virginia, that applies to first time offenders. In Maryland and the District of Columbia, it doesn't.

Advocates like Withers want to see that changed.

"Interlocks have been shown to reduce DUI recidivism by 65 percent," says Withers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Governors Highway Safety Association support expanding that requirement to first offenders. GHSA's John Saunders calls requiring ignition interlocks "a key step in eliminating drunk driving."

Based on statistics from years past, Saunders says between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, as many as 900 people could lose their lives to drunk drivers.

"This is needless, this is unacceptable," says Saunders.

Outside the U.S. Department of Transportation, Bill Chastain, state director with LifeSafer, an interlock company, demonstrated the device. Holding the breathalyzer, which is about the size of a brick, he explained that when a driver turns the vehicle on, the interlock device "asks" for a test. The driver takes a deep breath, then exhales into the mouthpiece.

"Then it's going to tell them if they passed or they failed. If they pass, they can start the vehicle. Simple as that," says Chastain.

Virginia passed legislation requiring an ignition interlock device in July. Efforts to pass similar legislation have failed in Maryland's General Assembly, but supporters of expanding the use of the devices say they'll try again in 2014.

In 2012, 10,322 people were killed nationwide in crashes involving drunk drivers. The majority of those crashes, according to the USDOT, involved drivers with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .15 or higher -- more than double the legal limit. According to research cited by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, those convicted drunk drivers who were required to use the interlock devices were 75 percent less likely to drive drunk again.

WTOP's Kate Ran contributed to this report.

Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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