When judges think out loud, people listen.
Something occurred to Justice Graham Wakefield while he presided over a recent drunk driving case in Oshawa, Ontario. The case involved a man charged with driving while drunk – his blood alcohol levels were about twice the legal limit.
Justice Wakefield wondered if all cars should be equipped with an ignition interlock device, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
Requiring interlock devices in all vehicles, he reasoned, would have two effects. First, it would of course reduce the number of crashes caused by drunk driving. Second, it would free up a lot of court time.
Dealing with intoxicated drivers fills up a substantial amount of the court calendar in Ontario. An impaired driving case might require five or six court appearances, and can take up to six months to complete. And many of the cases result in acquittal due to matters unrelated to the crime itself. For instance, in the above case the court ruled that the police did not have sufficient cause to arrest the driver, and so it was thrown out.
There is a movement to have interlocks of some kind or another in all cars, a movement which runs into a great deal of opposition due to many reasons: cost, inconvenience, and misgivings about governmental overreach.
However, there’s no question that ignition interlocks have a place in the way courts deal with convicted drunk drivers. Car breathalyzers reduce recidivism and bring down the total number of alcohol-related collisions, injuries and deaths.
Time will tell whether Justice Wakefield’s dream will come true and Canada will deem it necessary to have interlocks installed preventatively in all cars. What is clear is that they are essential for helping drunk drivers become sober drivers, and that’s what keeps them and us safe.