Study Finds Ignition Interlock Could Prevent Nearly 60,000 Drunk Driving Deaths

Despite public awareness campaigns, tough DUI penalties and sobriety checkpoints in many states, drunk drivers continue to be a major cause of traffic accidents in North Carolina and nationwide. In a single recent year, alcohol-impaired driving killed 10,076 people, representing 31 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics. Alarming as the situation may be, there is hope that technology may provide a solution to drunk driving traffic accidents in the future.

The University of Michigan (UM) reports on a study about how many lives could be saved and how many injuries could be prevented if every new car sold were equipped with a blood alcohol content (BAC) monitoring device that would prevent an impaired driver from starting the vehicle. Using data collected from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) General Estimates System (both maintained by NHTSA), researchers analyzed the impact ignition interlock devices could have on alcohol-impaired traffic accidents if they were installed in all new cars sold over a 15-year period.


Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatalities

According to the Michigan News article, the study concluded that 85 percent of all alcohol-related traffic fatalities could be prevented, which amounts to more than 59,000 lives saved. Researchers also concluded that 1.25 million non-fatal traffic injuries could be avoided, representing a reduction of 84-89 percent. This prevention measure would also save $343 billion over a 15-year period, according to UM.

The study also found that drivers in the age group closest to the legal drinking age (21-29 years old) would benefit most in terms of injury prevention if ignition interlock devices were required on all new automobiles. Researchers estimate that this preventative measure could save 481,000 lives in this age group, as well as nearly 195,000 deaths and injuries in the under-21 age group. These two age groups have been difficult to penetrate with public health interventions and policies to prevent alcohol-impaired driving, according to the UM article.

Ignition interlock devices have been in existence since the 1960s, according to Bloomberg Business. In some cases, they are required by the courts to be installed in vehicles of drivers convicted of DUI. Similar to a breathalyzer, the device measures a driver’s BAC and will not allow the vehicle to start if it registers above a certain limit. Bloomberg reports that only about a fifth of convicted drunk drivers have ignition interlocks installed on their vehicles.

In 2008, NHTSA joined forces with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, which includes all major U.S. auto manufacturers, to develop new technology to prevent alcohol-impaired driving. This technology, using fingerprint or breath analysis for biometric readings, is intended to become a seamlessly integrated part of driving. It would be offered to consumers on a voluntary basis, as original equipment in new vehicles. Currently, ignition interlock devices are only available as aftermarket equipment.

As reported by Edmunds, France currently requires ignition interlock devices on buses that transport children, and Sweden requires the devices on any commercial vehicles that are contracted for public works. At present, no jurisdiction at any world location requires ignition interlock devices on all vehicles, according to the article.

Along with the rest of the nation, North Carolina motorists have good cause to be concerned about drunk drivers. NHTSA reports that 371 drunk driving fatalities statewide in a single recent year, representing 29 percent of all traffic deaths in the state. Despite law enforcement and other efforts to prevent driving under the influence, alcohol-impaired fatalities were only reduced by 1 from the previous year, and the drunk driving percentage of total traffic fatalities remained the same.

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in North Carolina in a crash caused by a drunk driver, you should seek help from an experienced Goldsboro car accident lawyer who can work closely with investigators and accident reconstruction experts to establish who was at fault for the accident and deal with insurance companies on your behalf to pursue compensation for your losses.