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I-Team: Advocates Call For Interlock Devices As Drunk Driving Deaths Increase Nationally

BOSTON (CBS) - After the I-Team caught William Foley Jr. behind the wheel, Dedham Police brought the repeat drunk driver before a judge. Foley's license was suspended for life after he killed Christine Griffiths in a 2001 drunk driving crash.

Nationally, drunk driving deaths have dramatically increased. But here in Massachusetts the numbers appear to be going down. In 2018, 122 people died in drunk driving crashes, in 2019, 110 lost their lives and in 2020, 98 were killed.

Mary Kate DePamphilis is with the Massachusetts chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. "We were one of the most locked down states during the pandemic, but nationally the deaths have spiked by 14%. That's the most dramatic increase we've seen since 2008," DePamphilis said. "Now that things are going back to normal, we may see an increase in Massachusetts as well. It is definitely an alarming trend that we are keeping an eye on."

Advocates like DePamphilis say one way to keep the numbers down is with ignition interlock devices. They work like a breathalyzer and prevent drivers who have been drinking from being able to start their car. Other similar technology like alcohol detection systems will soon be standard equipment in all new cars. The provision was put into the infrastructure bill signed by President Biden last year.

Police also have impaired drivers on their radar and set up checkpoints on weekend nights for what MADD calls preventable tragedies. Acknowledging that suspending someone's license doesn't always prevent them from getting behind the wheel.

"License suspension really isn't an effective tool, because they can just go ahead and drive anyways," DePamphilis said. "It's an honor system and these people have already committed something that is not honorable. So that's not something that we can really rely on."

MADD says the interlock devices work and the technology is improving all the time.

While that technology is available right now, making alcohol detection systems standard equipment in new cars will take a while. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has three years to choose a system and then set the safety standards.

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