Public Favors Alcohol-Detection Technology for All

Sep 29, 2009

A few posts back, we talked about implementing breathalyzer systems in commercial vehicles.  Now, a new survey shows that people are ready to stop anyone who gets behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol from driving, even though the technology to do it is not yet available.


According to the survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a majority of respondents (2 out of every 3 surveyed) said that using advanced technology to prevent impaired drivers from operating their vehicles was a good idea.  More than 40% said they would like the technology in their own car if it were offered as an option.  Both drinkers and non-drinkers were in favor of the technology.


The technology being discussed in the study goes beyond the level of sophistication in the current generation of ignition interlocks.  Anne McCartt, the Institute’s senior vice president for research, says that the current technology is not suitable for average drivers.  Installed in the vehicles of drivers with DWI convictions, the interlock systems are too unwieldy and obtrusive for day-to-day use. “This is okay for convicted offenders but not for every driver on every trip,” said McCartt. “An alcohol detector that’s suitable for all drivers would have to be all but invisible and require virtually no upkeep. It would have to be quick and easy to use and provide accurate readings. No such device exists yet, but it’s being worked on.”


About 180,000 interlocks are in use nationwide. They’re successfully reducing the risk that prior offenders will commit repeat violations. However, most fatal-crashes-involved drivers with illegal BACs haven’t had a DWI conviction in the past 3 years. If interlocks had been in all vehicles, not just those of prior offenders, to prevent driving above the legal limit, more than 8,000 lives could have been saved last year, the Institute estimates.


The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program, a partnership between the NHTSA and Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, is exploring new technologies that could one day make their way into cars as a standard feature.  64% of respondents said the devices would be a good idea in all cars if the technology proves reliable.  Only 30% said it would be a bad idea. The idea is much more heavily supported by those with previous drunk driving convictions.  Of that group, 84% of people were in favor of widespread implementation.


Alcohol-impaired driving is a big contributor to fatal crashes, and most impaired drivers are never arrested. A total of 11,773 people died in crashes involving drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent in 2008. This represents 32% of all traffic-related deaths.


Do you think everyone should be subjected to alcohol testing before driving?  Would you want the technology in your vehicle?  Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.


Photo courtesy of BarelyFitz under the Creative Commons License.