We have the tools to reduce drunk driving.

So why aren’t government and the insurance industry using them?

What seems to have been lost in all the public outrage over Marco Muzzo, centre, is that his story is merely an egregious instance of the grim and all too common arithmetic of impaired driving, writes Ian Cooper.

Last September a twenty-something man got off a private plane after a weekend of partying, did some rough math, and decided he was fine to drive home.

A few details conspired to make Marco Muzzo’s story unique.

To begin with there were the victims — three young children and their grandfather, all dead within a matter of hours. Then there was the perpetrator, whose enormous wealth (inherited), emergence from the crash relatively unscathed, and vague “history of driving infractions” made him a good public punching bag.

What seems to have been lost in all the public outrage is the fact that Marco Muzzo’s story is merely an egregious instance of the grim and all too common arithmetic of impaired driving.

More troubling is the fact that we have the tools available to reduce drunk driving significantly and our government and insurance industry have effectively abdicated their responsibility to do so.

An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breathalyzer that prevents a car from starting when the driver is impaired.

In an ideal world, every car would have one.

Unfortunately most people like their cars and dislike being told what to do, meaning drivers are left to police themselves. That leaves two massive problems.

First, as Muzzo claimed at his trial, many drunk drivers underestimate their state of intoxication and assume they are below the legal limit.

Second, those who know they should not be driving imagine they will get home without incident. The fact that they often do only reinforces the behaviour.

In the end, Ontario’s government is left to balance the benefit of putting an IID on a car against the financial, convenience and esthetic costs.

Where that compromise has landed is surprisingly lenient on drivers: the only time you are required to put an IID on your car is if you have been convicted of impaired driving under the Criminal Code or suspended for registering a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 to 0.08 three or more times during a five-year period (the legal limit is 0.08).

While it would be political anathema to force a clunky technology on both car manufacturers and consumers, the provincial government and the insurers it regulates have other tools at their disposal.

For example, insurance companies could give reduced rates to consumers who voluntarily install IIDs on their cars, which would create a direct financial incentive to do so.

Even purchasing a cheaper and more convenient alternative, such as BACtrack’s breathalyzer, which can be attached to a key-chain and provides a blood alcohol reading on your smartphone, might be seen as an indicator of better judgment and reduced insurance risk.

While neither of these technologies will eliminate drunk driving entirely, wider adoption will empower people to make better decisions and keep more drunk drivers off the road. That in turn will make driving safer for all of us.

Moreover, as we have seen in the past with seatbelts, infant car seats and other advances, when governments and insurance companies use financial incentives to encourage the adoption of life-saving technologies, they become part of our social norms.

Even conservative economists and politicians recognize the enormous social costs of impaired driving accidents and the inability of drunk drivers to pay for the harms they cause.

By charging higher premiums to those who are unwilling to adopt these readily available tools, insurance companies could begin to internalize those social costs. Not every prospective drunk driver will heed the financial incentive, but at least some will.

Those of us who are willing to cede our “freedom” to drive drunk would no longer be forced to subsidize the insurance of those who want to keep that option open.

The official position of the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, which regulates the insurance industry, is that any insurance company could propose a discount for voluntarily installing an IID, but it is not the commission’s job to take the lead.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which represents the insurance companies, there has been “corporate thinking on this issue.”

In other words, it’s a classic case of political football.

The Muzzo trial provides a horrifying window onto just how badly things can go wrong when one decides to drive drunk. It would be a small consolation if our society learned a lesson in prevention from this tragedy.

Ian Cooper is a Toronto-based technology, entertainment and sports lawyer.

Source: The Toronto Star


Last updated on: 2016-03-28 | Link to this post