Alcohol-impairment continues to be a major cause of accidents and deaths on the road. However, there are legal programs and new technology that promise to reduce alcohol-impaired driving.
One major deterrent to drivers convicted of DUI violations are alcohol interlock devices that require the driver to blow into a breathalyzer before a vehicle can be started. Also, alcohol-detection sensor safety systems are currently being tested.
“We made a lot of progress on alcohol-impaired driving in the 1980s and ‘90s which was stalled,” said Russ Rader, senior vice president, communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Recent research that shows interlock use for all DUI offenders, including first-time offenders, can be a tool to jumpstart progress.”
A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed laws requiring all impaired-driving offenders to install alcohol interlocks reduce the number of impaired drivers in fatal crashes by 16 percent. If all states without such laws adopted them, more than 500 additional lives could be saved each year.
In the most recent year for which fatal crash data are available — 2016 — 10,497 people died in crashes involving drivers with a Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.08 percent or higher. Of those, 8,853 involved impaired drivers. At that time, 25 states had first-offender laws. But if all states had all-offender interlock requirements in place, then 543 of those deaths would have been prevented, the report found.
The report notes that laws requiring interlocks for repeat offenders only cut the number of drivers with BACs of 0.08 percent by 3 percent compared with no interlock law, and that effect wasn’t statistically significant, the study showed. Laws that required them for both repeat offenders and offenders with high BACs provided an 8 percent benefit.
The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Program (DADSS) is testing in-vehicle Alcohol Detection Sensors that will check when a driver is impaired with a blood alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
The alcohol detection system works by measuring the alcohol (ethanol) level present in a driver’s naturally exhaled breath. A small sensor analyzes only the breath molecules of the driver using infrared light.
The sensor would be programmable to a zero-tolerance policy by parents for teen drivers. The system is currently being tested on roads in Virginia though Driven to Protect to conduct some of the first in-vehicle, on-road test trials with prototype sensors in their vehicles.
“It’s important for the public to know that DADSS is a safety system and not a punitive device,” said Bud Zaouk, president of KEA Technologies, Inc. — the company that oversees the research and development of alcohol detection technology. Zaouk sees it as a way for parents to protect their teen drivers from driving while impaired.
Once DADDS is perfected to rigorous performance standards, it will be voluntarily offered as a safety option in new vehicles.
“The DADSS prototype is promising technology, if it can be perfected so that it quickly and accurately measures blood alcohol level,” said Rader, “It could keep drunk drivers off the road.”