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Alcohol sensors in all cars could save thousands of lives

Mar 24, 2015

Public information and police campaigns to reduce the incidence of drunk driving have not reduced its frequency enough, say experts
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What if every new car came equipped with a device that would not let a drunk or impaired driver start it?

That's the question researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute asked in a new study. 

UMTRI researcher Jonathan Rupp says efforts to reduce the incidence of drunk driving have not been as effective as hoped.

"For some time, crashes involving alcohol have remained at about 30% of fatal crashes," he says.

The problem, says Rupp, is that most DUIs are first-timers.

So the breathalyzers that courts may order to be installed in repeat offenders' vehicles don't address the bigger cohort of drivers causing most of the alcohol-related accidents.

Mandatory sensors, however, would.

Rupp says the study assumes that the sensors would be passive touch or directional breath sensors, not breathalyzers like the ones you blow into during a police stop for suspected drunk driving.

The study found a very large reduction in fatal crashes were the devices to be mandated on all new vehicles.

Such a mandate could avoid 85% of crash deaths attributable to alcohol-involved motor vehicle crashes during a 15-year implementation period.

That would mean preventing more than 59,000 deaths.

Of course, it would come at a significant cost. Passive alcohol sensors could add as much as $400 to the cost of every vehicle.

But Rupp says that extra cost would likely pale next to the cost savings related to reducing fatalities and injuries.