A sober idea

Everyone knows it’s dangerous and illegal for a sloppy drunk to get behind the wheel and power the car home through an alcoholic haze. And it’s certainly dangerous and illegal for a tipsy twentysomething starlet or a trashed fortysomething actor to buzz through city streets among the rest of us. Consider it sheer luck if their reckless behavior hasn’t yet caused injury or death. If any of these folks start up a vehicle again without first proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re sober, it’ll be too soon.

What applies to stereotypical and notorious drunk drivers applies as well to anyone with a record of operating a motor vehicle under the influence. Defense lawyers argue that at one time or another, everyone drives buzzed. That’s a sobering thought; if it’s true, and they’re caught, they should be prevented from doing it again.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) has a bill that would require people convicted of drunk driving to install a device in their car that would prevent them from firing up the ignition without first breathing into a tube to prove they’re fit to drive. Spare us the outrage about humiliation and government intrusion. Drunk driving is against the law, and for good reason. The bill deserves support.

Of course an interlock device, as it is called, is humiliating and intrusive. The incapacitated driver wields a deadly, multi-thousand-pound instrument of steel on public streets and freeways. Breathing into a tube is better than never being allowed to drive again, and infinitely better than being allowed to drive drunk again.

Representatives of the alcoholic beverage industry argue that the real road killers are the hard-core drinkers, the ones who will drink and then drive someone else’s car instead. They say this bill won’t affect them but will inconvenience only the driver who makes the occasional poor judgment call.


Even if that were true, we’d be OK with it. Those poor judgment calls can be deadly, and no one convicted of drunk driving should have a second chance to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Blowing into an interlock device -- or taking the bus -- would go a long way toward ensuring that the occasional buzzed driver doesn’t turn into the habitual DUI. And possible killer.

Besides, interlock isn’t forever. The device can be removed and driving rights restored after a period of sober, and sobering, reflection.

The alcohol lobby apparently doesn’t want people to think about the drive home before deciding to take a drink; it exerted enough pressure to trim Feuer’s bill into a “pilot” program that applies only to California’s four largest counties, including Los Angeles. Fine. We’ll go along with the pilot ruse if it keeps drunks off the road here.