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IIHS Alcohol Detection System Study

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August 11, 2020
Edward Smith

Alcohol Detection Systems Could Save Lives 

A new study released by the Insurance Institue for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed that vehicles equipped with alcohol detection systems designed to stop alcohol-impaired driving could potentially prevent more than one-fourth of all road fatalities in the United States, and save more than 9,000 lives per year.  This is significant since not much progress has been made in the battle against drunk driving since the mid-90s.  

Every year for the past decade, alcohol has played a role in approximately one-third of U.S. traffic deaths.  Approximately a million people per year are arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol.  Vehicle systems that detect the driver’s BAC (blood alcohol content) and disallow vehicle movement if the BAC exceeds the legal limit could significantly slash both of those statistics.  The technology already exists – many drivers who have been convicted for alcohol-related offenses have to blow into a breathalyzer device in order to unlock their vehicle’s ignition.  

Consumers Conditionally Support Alcohol Detection Systems 

Almost two-thirds of respondents in a survey of American drivers taken in 2009 indicated they would be supportive of installing such devices in every vehicle if the detection devices were accurate, quick, and unobtrusive.  But less than half of those same respondents said they would be willing to pay any extra for such a system. 

Steps Toward Implementation

Volvo is one auto manufacture that has offered an optional alcohol-detection system in its vehicles. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), a public-private partnership, has spearheaded a project that is testing a sensor that measures the ambient air within the car, with the intent to detect the driver’s BAC.  The DADSS project believes that some auto manufacturers will offer the ambient-air system as an optional feature as soon as 2025.

Here is a YouTube video created by DADSS on the alcohol detection systems.

The IIHS study considered risk assessments for alcohol-related driving to fatal crashes within the U.S. for the years 2015-18. The risk calculations took into account that it was possible some of the accidents may have occurred regardless of the presence of alcohol.  The study determined that approximately one-fourth of the total 2015-2018 crash fatalities might have been prevented if the BAC levels of the drivers with the greatest impairment were below 0.08 percent. That calculates to an average of just over 9,400 saved lives per year.

If those same drivers had no alcohol content in their blood, the number of lives that could be saved every year rose to approximately 12,000.

Maximum Effect Would Take Years

It would take time for the alcohol-detection systems to become common equipment.  If they were required for all new vehicles starting this year, there would be some number of lives immediately saved, but the study found it would take 12 years for the systems to be common enough in U.S. vehicles to save approximately 4,600 lives per year.  That number is half of the potential if every car was equipped with such a system.

Bills with the intent to require vehicle alcohol-detection systems have been introduced in the Senate and House within the past year.  The quickest way to implement the systems and save lives is via federal regulation, but there are also ways to entice automakers to begin including them as standard equipment.  For example, the IIHS and other safety associations could help encourage manufacturers to install the systems on a wider basis by making them a requirement in order to achieve a top safety rating.

Auto Products Liability Attorneys in Sacramento 

I’m Ed Smith, an Auto Products Liability Lawyer in Sacramento, California. If you or someone you love has sustained severe injuries as a result of a dangerous or defective motor vehicle or motor vehicle part, do not hesitate to call my office for free, friendly advice.  Locally we can be reached at (916) 921-6400 or from outside the area, toll-free at (800) 404-5400.

I am proud to be a member of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel as well as the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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