Technology can help curb unsafe driving

Everyone is well aware how dangerous impaired driving is and that somewhere between 25 to 35 percent of all fatal crashes are alcohol-related. Indeed, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, often quoted in these articles, estimates that more than 7,000 deaths would have been prevented in 2012 if all drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher were kept off the roads. This is possible, although there are issues to resolve.

One way to do so is through the use of alcohol ignition interlocks. An alcohol interlock is a breath-testing unit connected to a vehicle’s ignition. The driver blows into it and must register a BAC below a preset level. If the reading exceeds that level, the vehicle won’t start. Many people with impaired driving convictions are required to install an interlock, and IIHS research shows these are effective at reducing the likelihood that people will reoffend.

According to the IIHS in its Dec. 30, 2013 issue of Status Report, a more effective deterrent would be technology to prevent impaired drivers, regardless of whether they have a prior DUI conviction, from starting any vehicle. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, a joint project of the government and the auto industry, is developing such technology. The goal is to come up with a reliable and unobtrusive system. Current interlock technology, although reliable, is too intrusive for this purpose because it requires a driver to blow into a device and takes at least 30 seconds to compute a BAC. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expects a research vehicle that incorporates two different approaches to measuring BAC – touch-based and breath-based – to be complete in 2014.

Until there are cars that won’t operate if an alcohol-impaired driver is behind the wheel, sustained and well-publicized enforcement lets potential violators know they won’t get away with it. People are less likely to drink and drive if they believe they will get caught. Sobriety checkpoints are a highly visible enforcement method meant to deter potential offenders, as well as catch violators.

In-vehicle technology to get more drivers to use safety belts also might help reduce crash deaths. Technologies include enhanced belt reminders and belt ignition interlocks. There is strong support among drivers for auditory reminders that last longer than eight seconds but little support for belt interlocks to prevent drivers from starting their vehicles if they aren’t buckled up. A 2010 IIHS study found that driver fatality rates were 6 percent lower in vehicles with enhanced safety belt reminders compared with cars without them. Safety belt ignition interlocks rank high on NHTSA’s research agenda. Federal law prohibits the agency from requiring belt interlocks but allows manufacturers to voluntarily install them to meet a federal safety standard. Along with DADSS, safety belt ignition interlocks rank high on NHTSA’s research agenda.

These are just two possible uses of technology to prevent crashes, injuries, and deaths on our highways. We thank the IIHS for this information.

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