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Why Car Manufacturers Should Install Breathalyzers in New Vehicles

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Too many drivers these days think they can fool the cops, and themselves, when they have had too many drinks and try to drive home. It may be funny in 40 Year Old Virgin when Lesley Mann belts out she needs some “Freeeeench Toast” while trying to drive home drunk,  but the real issue is what impaired driving can cost everyone involved.

Besides the obvious human tragedy to victims, the driver who gets the DUI (or worse) will pay for years. In Oregon, a first offense greets the guilty party with at least 2 days in jail, $1,000 fine and a year with a suspended license. 

The Car Connection recently reported the results of a study by the University of Michigan Injury Center and the U-M Transportation Research Institute that is providing quite a bit more weight behind the argument that car manufacturers should be required to equip new vehicles with alcohol ignition interlocks. These devices would test and verify the driver’s blood alcohol level before the car would start. 

An obvious argument against is the increase to the price of the car but the U-M study showed that the savings would actually be nearly $23 billion and 4,000 lives annually. The National Highway Safety Administration has been pushing to have the mandated monitors in the vehicles for a number of years now and with this added data, the debate will be even stronger. Some of the statistics when extrapolated over 15 years is staggering. 

An outraegous 85 percent of alcohol related fatalities could be avoided. Nearly 10,000 drunken driving fatalities occur on our roads annually now. Also, over one million non-fatal injuries could be avoided in that time period.  

According to the study, the biggest benefactor would be the country’s young drivers as these devices would prevent just under 700,000 deaths and injuries to drivers 29 and younger. 
The study also estimated that there would be a huge financial windfall as well. A savings of over $343 billion would be realized in the US over that 15 year span.

There are options in place now to have ignition interlock devices put in to a driver’s vehicle. In Oregon, a driver can get back some driving privileges with the installation of such a device. The driver is responsible for all the costs and is required to maintain an electronic log device. According to Peter Clover, owner of Mobile West in Portland, they install up to 25 units a month of the LifeSafer system. Clover said the system is pretty slick and easy to use. 

LifeSafer is the leading provider of interlock devices and helped originate the ignition interlock industry in 1991. As well as spearheading advances in car breathalyzer technology, LifeSafer has been instrumental in showing lawmakers the merits of ignition interlock programs. Since their efforts began more than twenty years ago, all fifty states have adopted some type of interlock program.

Brad Boyer is owner of Carcierge, a car concierge company providing expert assistance on anything car-related. He also co-hosts Test Miles on 101.1 FM KXL on Sundays, and is a founding member of the Northwest Auto Press Association. You can email him your car-related questions at [email protected]


Related Slideshow: The 10 Worst Vehicles in the Last 30 Years

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2002 BMW 7-Series

We have all become used to all the high-tech gadgetry in today’s vehicles and even the computer mouse type designs to control the gauges, BMW was ahead of the curve on its I Drive system it introduced in their flagship 7 series. Maybe even a little over its skis too as it required a two-day training session for the public relations staff that handed out the cars to the media just to understand the complexities.

Owners complained vigorously about how difficult it was to use and eventually just tried to avoid it altogether. The 2002 was also a huge overhaul in the exterior styling as well. When the tarp was taken off the new 7 the front and side view was astonishingly beautiful. The rear view…? Well, let’s just say Kim Kardashian would have been jealous. It wasn’t at all what the BMW buyer wanted. 

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Subaru Baja

This vehicle has been making an ironic sort of comeback in popularity. It’s really so impractical and ugly that it now has a great kitsch following. The Baja really didn’t know what it wanted to be. It wasn’t really a sedan and wasn’t really a pickup. Instead of offering the best of both worlds it offered less of both.

There was no middle seat in the back to make room for the rear section to fold forward. The problem there too was that only a portion of it folded forward. It was a nice little truck to drive but it was really a truck with a tiny bed that couldn’t really haul anything.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons 

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Saturn Ion

This was one sad little car. The quality was terrible -  it was horrible to drive with no road feel, power or handling. The interior was badly laid out and all the plastic pieces made it feel like a hot wheels car (without the cool track).

The Ion was manufactured by General Motors between 2003 and 2007. In February of 2014 it was on the list of GM vehicles recalled because of faulty ignition switches. In 2004 after being saddled with and unexpected long term loan of the 2003 Saturn Ion, Car and Drive Magazine wrote of its experience, “Anxious to drive Saturn's all-new little guy, we were soon anxious to get rid of it. Not one editor could say he or she liked the car, which, according to our road test, had a ‘pigheaded transmission, anxious steering, bar-stool seating, muddled styling, [and a] cyclopean dash.’ The acceleration numbers didn't make it any more popular.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons 

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Fisker Karma

This may seem an odd choice to be on a worst list as it is stunningly beautiful but as Donald Sutherland’s character uttered in the movie The Dirty Dozen when looking at the troops, "Very pretty, General. Very pretty. But, can they fight?" That’s what it felt like driving the Fisker and the answer was no.

It was the brainchild of the Henrick Fisker who was responsible for designing the BMW Z8 and served as design director for Aston Martin. The first car to be produced by Fisker Automotive was the Fisker Karma, a hybrid luxury car which debuted in January 2008 at the North American International Auto Show with great fanfare. It was supposed to hit the market in 2009 but that date was missed. The Fisker Karma production was launched in November 2011. 

What really gets the Karma on the list is the huge over-promise, under-delivery element. Fisker was given access to $529 million by the Department of Energy as part of the green initiative. It was going to be the Tesla beater but while Tesla has already paid back it’s loan, Fisker declared bankruptcy in 2013 with only 2,450 units built and $193 million of the DOE loan gone. Fisker Automotive was acquired by China's largest auto parts company, and plans to restart production of its Karma. It will also complete the half-finished development of a second model, according to a senior executive. 

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Cadillac Allanté

This widely expensive Cadillac roadster was heavy, unwieldy and had a convertible top that required two people to take it off and store in the back. It was GM’s attempt to compete with the European two-seater sports cars like the SL500.  In a word, Fail. GM had the bodies made by Pininfarina in Italy and then finished up the rest of the production in Detroit.

The Allanté was manufactured from 1986 until 1993, with roughly 21,000 units built over a seven-year production run.  

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Chrysler TC by Maserati 

Not to be outdone by GM, Chrysler decided to get in on the European styling by offering either a bad Chrylser or a very bad Masertai. It was hard to determine which manufacturer looked worse. Chrysler's TC by Maserati was based on a modified second generation Chrysler K car and introduced at the 1986 Los Angeles Auto Show.

After two years of development delays, the TC became available in late-1989 and 7,300 units were manufactured by the time production ended in 1990. All cars sold as 1991 models were actually manufactured in 1990.  Lee Iacocca, who did a lot of good things at Chrysler and sold a lot of books, was a proponent of the new model "to change the way the world looked at Chrysler" and to create a new image for the automaker.

The problem was it reminded people more of a Chrysler Lebaron which was much less expensive than a Maserati. 

Photo via Wikimedia Commons 

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Plymoth Prowler

Chrysler, in the mid 90’s thought what every older driver wanted was to remember the 50’s hot rods, so it came out with its super cool, hot-rod-looking Plymoth Prowler. It was a real retro looking roadster with the open wheel front end and the big rounded rear fenders.

The designers were said to have been given free rein to develop whatever hot rod, sports car they could create. The Plymouth Prowler was produced for the 1997 and 1999-2001 model years. After the Plymouth name was discontinued in 2001 the Prowler was sold as a Chrysler Prowler for the 2001 and 2002 model years.

Besides the complete lack of vision out of the car, the worst feature was that it was all hat and no horse…as in horsepower. It looked as if it was like the hot rods of old but was “under” powered with a standard 3.5 liter, V-6 engine producing a paltry 250 horsepower. 

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Just the word conjures up the USA pride in the fact that, while maybe we built some crummy cars over the years, at least we weren’t responsible for this little high maintenance proletariat transportation device.

In 1985, Malcom Bricklin began importing the Yugo GV to the United States. Spending any seat time in this vehicle was scary to say the least. Built in Soviet-Bloc Yugoslovia, it made its U.S. debut at the 1984 Los Angeles Auto Show. At time it looked is if the little hatchback offered buyers some value with a 55-hp engine that was capable of 30-mpg fuel ratings and a 110-mph top speed for just $3990.

But the old saying was never truer than with the Yugo, you really do get what you pay for. Most car companies take a less dramatic way to end production than the Yugo that was built at the Zastava's Kragujevac factory.  The factory that was suspected of making weapons and military vehicles was bombed by NATO forces during a Kosovo air-raid. That was mercifully the end of its car-manufacturing days.  

Photo via Wikimedia Commons 

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Pontiac Aztec  

It was a tough call which GM vehicle would get the number one slot but the horror that was this ugly SUV seemed to be generated by multiple layers of incompetence rather than the complete disregard for the consumer as our number one choice.

Like the Baja, the Aztec has taken on a new cult status with one of television’s greatest characters driving it. But even Walter White from Breaking Bad and his bad ass fedora could not save the Aztec from being a hideous vehicle. It was something of a crossover vehicle but did neither well and its plastic exterior made it the butt of many a joke and conversation.

It’s likely that when Pontiac marketing reps determined giving one away to the first Survivor winner they thought of all the great press they would get. However, following the finale of the show, Howard Stern went on the air the next day and talked about what an ugly vehicle it was and that even if they gave him one, he wouldn’t take it. GM forecast sales of up to 75,000 Azteks per year, and needed to produce 30,000 annually to break even. Just 27,322 were sold in 2001.  The Pontiac Aztek was sold from 2001 to 2005. 

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Cadillac Cimarron

It used to be, General Motors buyers would work their way up the GM family of cars and when they really “made it”, they bought a Cadillac. The emblem on the front of the car meant more than just designating what brand the car was but showed off what the driver had achieved in his or her lifetime.

In the mid 80’s the GM bean counters had such disregard for their customers and the brand significance they put out the Cadillac Cimarron.  The Cimarron was simply a rebranded version of GM’s entry-level product of the time, the Chevrolet Cavalier. The fake Cadillac didn't exhibit any traditional Cadillac styling features and other than Cadillac badges, was virtually identical to the Cavalier. Both the Cimarron and Cavalier were built on the same assembly plant in South Gate, California and Janesville, Wisconsin.

It was first introduced in 1981 for the 1982 model year, and sold through 1988. During its seven-year model run, 132,499 were built and those responsible should make a pilgrimage to each household and apologize. It’s hard to say what the biggest problem was with the car itself.  The meager 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine with just 88 horsepower (in a Cadillac!) didn’t help. The worst was likely the arrogant price tag of twice that of the Cavalier with the Cadillac version selling for $12,000.


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