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Can technological advances prevent drunk driving?

On Behalf of | Dec 16, 2020 | DWI/DUI |

As many as 9,000 fewer drunk driving-related fatalities could occur annually with wider use of alcohol-detection systems such as the ignition interlock device, according to findings of a recent study sponsored by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Technology continues to play a major role in our everyday lives. It has affected so many life aspects, including home, work and communication. But it also can and has prevented situations involving drunk driving. The IIHS study notes that each year in the past decade, alcohol consumption contributed to 30% of U.S. road fatalities. Additionally, law enforcement annually arrests roughly 1 million people for drunk driving.

How do ignition interlock devices work?

The ignition interlock system detects alcohol in a driver’s system and prevents the vehicle from operating if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is too high. Such technology has been around for years in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Installed under the vehicle’s dashboard, the ignition interlock system is connected to the starter. The driver must blow into the device, which measures his or her blood alcohol content. If their BAC is 0.02 or higher, the vehicle will not start. Additionally, this data is recorded and sent to authorities.

Individuals who have been convicted of drunk driving have long benefited from these devices. Without ignition interlock devices, persons with a DUI could have their licenses revoked for a year or more, severely hampering essential activities such as commuting to work, driving kids to school or running errands. With an ignition interlock device, those convicted of a DUI have the freedom to drive if their BAC registers below the 0.02 threshold.

Could cars have alcohol sensors by 2025?

The IIHS reported that federally mandated regulation is the swiftest way in ensuring detection technology becomes a component toward combating drunk driving. The Sweden-based automaker Volvo, for example, has already delved into providing such technology as optional equipment for its vehicles.

In a related development, a project funded by U.S. automakers promises a similar method in detecting alcohol among drivers. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) is testing an alcohol sensor that identifies a driver’s BAC by measuring the surrounding air within the vehicle. The DADSS project predicts that some automakers could introduce the ambient-air-based system by 2025.

Some carmakers are looking to offer alcohol sensors well ahead of potential legislation that could mandate ignition interlock devices in the future. More than two-thirds of surveyed drivers said that they would support adding these devices to all cars. However, less than half of survey participants would be willing to pay more for the additional technology. Only time will tell whether ignition interlock devices become a safety standard in future American vehicles, much like airbags becoming a requirement in the 1990s.