Every two minutes, a person is injured in an alcohol-related car crash. On average, 2 in 3 people will be involved in an alcohol-related driving accident in their lifetime. In 2012, 29 million people admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol — that’s more than half the population of Texas. Every day in the U.S., 28 people die as a result of drunk driving. In 2013, 10,076 people died in drunk driving crashes — one every 52 minutes — and 290,000 were injured in alcohol-related driving accidents. Drunk driving costs the U.S. $199 billion a year. These statistics might be enough to sober up any driver.
Driving under the influence is the crime of driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, including those prescribed by physicians such a painkillers and anti-anxiety medications. In the case of alcohol, a drunk driver’s level of intoxication is typically determined by a measurement of blood alcohol content or BAC. A BAC measurement in excess of a specific threshold level, such as 0.08 percent, defines the criminal offense of drunk driving. Many such laws apply also to motorcycling, boating, piloting aircraft, using mobile farm equipment such as tractors, riding horses, or bicycling, with different BAC limits than driving an automobile.
Installing devices in new cars to prevent drunk drivers from starting the engine could prevent 85 percent of alcohol-related deaths on U.S. roads, saving tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars from injury-related costs, according to a new study in March 2015 published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Eliminating the “game of chance”
Current interlock devices are designed as an alcohol breath-testing unit connected to the vehicle’s ignition switch. These devices prevent the car from starting if the driver’s breath contains more than a certain level of alcohol. Although the devices are used in all 50 states for offenders with multiple DUI convictions, they are only used by convicted drunk drivers who are caught by police officers.
On average a drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before an arrest is made, making getting caught driving under the influence a “game of chance.” Having a similar device installed in every new car before it hits the car lot will reduce drunk driving fatalities and injuries, and will eliminate the element of chance in catching drunk drivers.
The driver alcohol detection system for safety or DADSS is currently in development and might not be road-ready for another five to eight years, according to the study in the American Journal of Public Health. Unlike the current interlock devices that are in cars now, the DADSS takes less than half a second, and uses infrared light to measure a driver’s BAC in the breath or through the fingertips. The car will not start if the driver’s blood alcohol content is equal to or greater than the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
On average this device costs about $400 to develop and install. However, researchers have found that installing these interlock devices in new vehicles would save around $343 billion in unintentional injury costs, and save 60,000 lives over a 15-year time period, far outweighing the cost of the device.
Preventing drunk driving
The standard installment of these new interlock systems is one solution for preventing drunk driving. Enlisting a designated driver; taking a cab, an Uber or public transportation; and entrusting a friend to take your keys if necessary are a few other ways to avoid drunk driving. April is National Alcohol Awareness Month and it is important to always keep in mind the devastating effects of operating a motorized vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Be safe out there on the roads.