Every year, about 11,000 people die on America’s roads in alcohol-related car accidents. Drunk driving is the leading cause of traffic fatalities. It also drives up car insurance for all us, making it harder to find cheap car insurance quotes. Drunk driving fatalities used to be much worse, until Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) began its push to shape public opinion and push legislatures to enact tougher laws beginning in 1980. MADD, along with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), law enforcement, lawmakers and the courts, has helped radically lower the blood alcohol limit at which a driver is considered drunk. They’ve also been successful in getting many states and municipalities to impose stiffer penalties for convicted drivers including the impounding of their vehicles, longer revocation of drivers’ licenses, even mandatory jail time for first-time offenders.
All those actions have been reasonably successful in dealing with repeat offenders: drunk-driving fatalities have declined by more than 40% in the last three decades. But the ultimate goal is zero tolerance. Which is why, since 2008, anti-drunk driving advocates have been pursuing a technology-based approach that would take the decision to drive under the influence out of your hands entirely.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with the enthusiastic backing of partners like MADD, have been developing the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), a device that could be built into your car to override the ignition system if your blood alcohol level exceeded limits.
The new DADSS device would be more elegant and less obvious than the clunky alcohol interlocks some 16 states already require convicted drunk drivers to install in their vehicles. Ideally, the DADSS would be a built-in sensor that would measure alcohol levels via breath or skin scan.
Don’t expect to see a factory-installed DADSS on production-line vehicles anytime soon. Engineers still need to design a maintenance-free, unobtrusive device to discourage you from disabling it. Experts estimate it will be nearly a decade before such vehicles are widely available. In the meantime, your best bet to avoid being a victim of a drunk driver is to drive defensively.
If you see someone weaving, straddling the center lane, taking extremely wide turns or driving 10, making inexplicable stops or more miles per hour below the speed limit, it could be a drunk or drug-impaired driver. Stay as far behind the suspect as possible. You might even want to pull over and wait a few minutes before proceeding. If possible, get the license number and other identifying features and call 911. Whatever you do, don’t try to pass the suspected drunk driver or make any attempt to intercept or stop the driver. Drunks are erratic at best. When they’re behind the wheel of a car, they can also be lethal.