Over 15 years, as older cars without a so-called alcohol ignition interlock come off the roads, sobriety-screening systems in new vehicles could avert more than 59,000 crash fatalities, more than 1.25 million non-fatal injuries and over $340 billion in injury-related costs, the study in the American Journal of Public Health concludes.
“Alcohol interlocks are used very effectively in all 50 states as a component of sentencing or as a condition for having a license reinstated after DUIs, but this only works for the drunk drivers caught by police and it doesn’t catch the people who choose to drive without a license to avoid having the interlock installed,” said lead author Dr. Patrick Carter, an emergency physician with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
Most drunk drivers make about 80 trips under the influence before they are stopped for a DUI, Carter said. “If we decided that every new car should have an alcohol ignition interlock that’s seamless to use for the driver and doesn’t take any time or effort, we suddenly have a way to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries that doesn’t rely solely on police.”
Carter and colleagues used U.S. records of traffic accidents and fatalities to determine how many involved drunk driving and then estimated how many of these incidents could be avoided in the future by fitting new cars with alcohol-interlock devices, which detect blood-alcohol levels and prevent drivers above a certain threshold from starting the car.