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Technology attempts to lock out drunk drivers

Around 1500 Erie County motorists are driving with ignition interlocks to check and see if the driver has been drinking.
To get the car started, the driver has to breathe into a tube and if the interlock sniffs alcohol, the car won't start. It's part of the decades-long attack on drunken driving which still leads to around 3500 arrests a year.

John Sullivan, director of the county's STOP DWI Office, believes the lower legal limits on blood-alcohol levels have helped the situation. Nonetheless, there are arrests like the one last week of an allegedly drunken motorcyclist who had a prior DWI.

"What's reflected there is the changing nature of the drinking and driving problem. It's becoming more of a chronic offender problem. I think the social war on drinking and driving has been won," Sullivan said.

"Most people that don't drink and drive, don't drink on a regular basis (or) usually make plans or plan ahead for a ride home if they are going to be drinking. That wasn't the case many, many years ago."

Sullivan says those 3500 arrests match the annual arrest totals county-wide for the last decade. He says around 30 percent of the arrests involve people with prior alcohol-related arrests while only 21 percent of those arrested are busted again.

There is also increasing attention paid to drugged driving, with specially-trained officers available to come and check a driver who can be ordered to provide a blood sample to be analyzed for drugs.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.