The world is quickly changing, with more and more safety technology available every year. One item that may find its way into cars relatively soon is the in-vehicle alcohol detection system.
This system might refuse to start your vehicle’s engine if any amount of alcohol were detected through cameras and sensors installed in the vehicle. Or, it might refuse to start your engine if it determines you are at 0.08% blood alcohol content or higher.
The system might be mandated for all new cars, or it might be required only for people who have been convicted of drunk driving. It might even be rolled out to commercial fleets before it hits the average passenger vehicle.
Depending on how the system works and how it is rolled out, it could have the potential to save many lives. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently studied the issue and determined that it could prevent as many as a quarter of all road fatalities in the U.S. — or 9,000 lives per year.
Alcohol is a factor in about 30% of U.S. traffic deaths each year, according to the IIHS. The system being considered might be very like the one many states require people to install in their cars after a drunk-driving conviction. That system attaches a breathalyzer-like device to your car’s starter.
Proposals for the newer system include one that would test the ambient air in the passenger compartment. That might meet the requirements of Americans, many of whom would support the systems on all cars if they were fast, accurate and unobtrusive.
Why 9,000 lives saved?
The IIHS estimated the number of crashes that would have been prevented if every driver were sober. Some crashes would still occur, of course, but many would not or would be less severe.
If in-vehicle alcohol detection systems could ensure that everyone driving had a blood alcohol concentration of less than 0.08, the institute estimates that 37,636 crash deaths could have been prevented between 2015 and 2018. On average, that works out to be about 9,409 lives each year.
If the systems could ensure that every driver had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.00%, around 12,000 lives could be saved.
Next step: making the system standard
In order for these systems to be palatable for Americans, they need to be fast, accurate and unobtrusive. There is still work to be done in each area.
Meanwhile, safety organizations and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are working to get some form of in-vehicle alcohol detection system made standard on all new vehicles.