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Study: Alcohol-detection systems could save thousands of lives

On Behalf of | Jul 24, 2020 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

Among the penalties a person faces after a drunk driving conviction in Florida is mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device. Afterwards, the person must blow into the device, which will then detect any alcohol in the breath. If a disallowed level of alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start and cannot be driven.

Saving more than 9,000 lives

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that if similar devices were required in all vehicles across the nation, it could prevent more than 25 percent of the fatalities in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year, saving more than 9,000 lives annually.

The author of the study, Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president of research and statistical services said, “We haven’t made much progress in the fight against drunk driving since the mid-1990s,” adding that mandating alcohol-detection systems “is something that could put a real dent in the alcohol-impaired driving problem.”

Saving hundreds of lives in Florida

Florida certainly has plenty of room for improvement in this crucial aspect of roadway safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,133 people died in motor vehicle crashes in Florida in 2018 (the most recent year for which data is available). Of those fatalities, 814 were caused by drunk drivers.

For the IIHS study, Farmer analyzed national crash data from 2015-2018, determining that 37,636 people – approximately 25 percent of all roadway fatalities – could have been saved if the drivers involved had had blood-alcohol levels (BAC) below the legal limit of .08 percent.

What if . . .

Farmer took the research a bit farther to answer this question: “What if drivers had a BAC of zero?” In that scenario, 12,000 lives would be saved each year.

Even if the federal government issued a mandate that required all new vehicles to include an alcohol-detecting system that prevented vehicle operation if a driver’s BAC was .08 percent and above, it would take time to dramatically lower fatality totals.

Calculating the growth in lives spared

Farmer calculates that within three years, between 1,000 and 1,300 lives would be saved annually. Within six years, the annual lives saved would range between 2,000 and 2,600. Within a dozen years of the mandate, annual lives saved would total between 4,600 and 5,900.

Current research is exploring technology advances that would create passive alcohol-testing systems that could detect alcohol content via contact with the driver’s skin or by sampling air in the vehicle’s cabin. It’s unclear when or if the tech would ever be required on new vehicles, but there is little doubt that lives would be spared, and that there would also be tens of thousands of people spared devastating injuries as well.

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