WDAY: The News Leader

Published December 13, 2012, 05:28 PM

A new device is trying to get drunk drivers off the road

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) -- There is a move on to get drunk drivers off the roads.

By: Kay Cooley, WDAY

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) -- There is a move on to get drunk drivers off the roads.

A federal safety board is asking all states to require ignition interlock devices. It's aimed at keeping convicted drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel, after a night out. National backers of the device say it's currently the best solution for reducing the number of people killed by drunk drivers.

In North Dakota, that number is 79 so far this year.

Lynn Mickelson/lost family to a drunk driver: "There's no excuse for it, absolutely none, and we as a state have got to change."

Lynn Mickelson knows first hand how drinking and driving can tear apart a family. He lost much of his own five months ago when a drunk driver took the lives of his pregnant daughter, her husband, and their little girl.

Mickelson: "She was due to have a baby some time now in December and obviously that's not going to be."

He's one of many nationwide fighting for a change. A federal safety board wants all states to require ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers. They work like a breathalyzer, but installed into the dash of a car, and won't let the vehicle start if the device detects alcohol.

Decreasing the chance for alcohol related driving deaths, in a state that has one of the highest rates.

Robin Litke Sall/Safe Communities Coordinator: "We'd have 40 people who wouldn't be dead right now, so we have a huge problem here and I think anything that could help, even just a little bit, needs to be tried. We have to try something."

This year so far, North Dakota has already seen about 80 drunk driving fatalities. Right now, there's no place to manufacture or install the devices. But in states that require them, they've reduced deaths, by up to 50 percent.

Ross Brandborg/Defense Attorney: "The way things are handled right now I think are appropriate. Could the ignition interlock be effective at say a multiple offender? Possibly."

Brandborg says making the device mandatory for all may be too harsh for first time offenders. But Mickelson believes anything to eliminate even a few drunks from driving would be worth it, if it means saving lives like the four he lost.

Mickelson: "I owe it to them, and many, many others in the state that have lost loved ones, that something has got to be done. Something has got to be done."

Seventeen states have laws requiring the use of ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers. In North Dakota, it's still up to the judge to decide. And in Minnesota, they're required for convicted drunk drivers who had a blood alcohol level at least double the legal limit.