Americans are drinking and driving less than in recent years, but far too many booze-impaired drivers are still a danger to themselves, their passengers, and anyone else in their vicinity. In fact, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show one person in the U.S. dies about every 51 minutes due to a motor vehicle crash caused by an alcohol-impaired driver.
In all, about 8 percent of people rolling down the road have booze in their system — and more than one in 10 is over the legal limit of alcohol and shouldn’t be behind the wheel, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “Researchers have developed a deep body of knowledge about the link between drinking, driving and risk. We know drunk driving kills,” said NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind.
Thanks to technology, there may be a way to finally stop drunk driving. A built-in alcohol ignition interlock device senses blood alcohol levels and prevents impaired drivers from starting their cars.
If the devices are installed on all newly purchased vehicles over the next 15 years, 85 percent of alcohol-involved crashes causing around 60,000 deaths would be prevented, according to researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) Injury Center and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The research team calculated that 1.25 million non-fatal injuries would be prevented, as well.
The cost of installing the stop-drunk-driving devices in cars would be recouped in three years, and the resulting prevention of injuries, lost lives, and productivity would save the U.S. economy around $345 billion over the course of a decade and a half, the study concluded. The NHTSA is pushing for the technology to begin appearing in new cars in five years.
"We knew our modeling would yield significant results, but the sheer numbers of preventable fatalities and serious injuries were surprising. Our analysis clearly demonstrates the significant public health benefit and societal cost savings associated with including alcohol ignition interlock devices as standard equipment in all new cars," said U-M researcher Patrick Carter, MD.
The study predicts one group of drivers would especially benefit from the use of the ignition interlock devices — young people under 30, who are more likely to drink and drive than older folks. Carter and his colleagues predicted that installing the anti-drunk driving devices in cars would prevent 481,103 deaths and injuries among people between the ages of 21 and 29. Another194,886 deaths and injuries would be prevented in those younger than 21.
"It is often difficult to penetrate these age groups with effective public health interventions and policies to prevent drinking and driving," Carter noted. "By capitalizing on recent technological advancements that make alcohol-detecting sensors seamless to the driver and applying such technology more broadly to all newly built vehicles, we can actually have a substantial injury prevention impact among traditionally hard-to-reach high-risk populations."
If the built-in alcohol ignition interlock devices become a reality in future cars, researchers might start looking at ways technology could also keep people who are drug impaired off the roads. The NHTSA found that while drunk driving is decreasing, drugged driving is becoming an increasingly dangerous problem.
June 11, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN