For decades, drunk driving has been a significant issue in the US, with billions spent every year on injuries, damage, and the legal system.
This is why technology is always evolving to combat the issue of driving under the influence. But is there any technology that can eradicate the issue and prevent people from driving while intoxicated all together?
In this post, we’ll look at the innovative technologies currently under development in the US and around the world, and how different countries are tackling the significant problem of drunk driving.
The Current Situation with Drunk Driving in the US
Each day in the US, 29 people die in motor vehicle crashes involving a drunk driver. That’s more than one every hour and costs more than $44 billion every single year.
Even over the past year with lockdown restrictions meaning people are drinking less and driving less, traffic fatalities rose by just over 13 percent, and around 65 percent of drivers in severe crashes were found to have alcohol or drugs in their system.
So it’s clear that even Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions didn’t have a significant impact on drunk driving.
As DUI continues to be a concerning issue, legislation across the US has improved in an attempt to stop drunk driving. Each state has different restrictions and penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Arizona currently leads the pack with the harshest legislation of any state. Caught drunk driving here, you’ll immediately lose your license, and it was the first state to implement mandatory interlock devices for a first DUI offense.
Now, all 50 states use IIDs on some level, but only 16 have made them mandatory or highly encouraged.
Can Technology Really Prevent Drunk Driving?
Even though many states are still slow to implement technology to prevent or at least minimize DUIs, research shows that technology that prevents drivers under the influence from moving their vehicle could prevent around a quarter of fatalities and save 9,000 lives a year.
Interlock devices are nothing new, and research has shown that laws mandating the use of these devices (which make drivers take a breathalyzer test before the car will start) reduces alcohol-involved crashes and means drivers are less likely to repeat offenses.
But these devices alone don’t go far enough and still have limitations on how effective they can be. Luckily, there is a range of technologies that are slowly becoming more implemented and with legislation calling for technology to become mandatory in all cars, it won’t be long until at least some of these are a common sight across the US.
Technology that Can Help Prevent DUIs
It seems that implementing technology is a proven way of reducing DUIs and related accidents, but it’s not just breathalyzers that can help.
One of the easiest technologies to encourage is smartphone apps which are designed to stop people driving under the influence. Some of the most popular include:
- Alcohoot: Turns your smartphone into a breathalyzer.
- DrinkTracker: Helps you calculate your blood alcohol concentration.
- Endui: A blood alcohol calculator with a list of local taxi numbers and reflex games to determine whether you’re safe to drive and help you book a cab if you’re not.
- Have a Plan: Lets you store names, numbers, and local services to call when you are drunk to avoid driving yourself home.
The problem with smartphone apps is they rely solely on the user to take advantage of them. If the person under the influence doesn’t take the app and make use of the tools, they are pretty useless in prevention.
Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS)
The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) project is a collaboration between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety.
Funded by several car manufacturers, the DADSS is an alcohol sensor that detects alcohol in the ambient air of the vehicle.
There’s no need for the driver to breathe directly into a breathalyzer, the car will automatically detect alcohol just from the driver breathing in the car and won’t turn on.
These devices are still in production but some manufacturers are thought to have them on offer as early as 2025.
Cameras and sensors are already used in cars to improve performance and safety. But they can also be used to monitor the driver and detect intoxicated or even just distracted driving if someone is on their phone behind the wheel.
When the camera and sensor system detects the driver is drunk, tired, or distracted, the monitoring system will alert a call center, reduce the speed of the car automatically, even pulling it to a stop completely in self-drive cars.
While these are not readily available today, they are another feature that we may see in most cars in decades to come as self-drive technology progresses.
Ridesharing exploded in popularity in 2009 when Uber hit the roads. Since then, dozens of companies have sprouted up offering a more affordable, convenient alternative to taxis.
While Lyft and Uber are popular choices for average ridesharing, apps like Steer Clear are geared towards getting drunk people home safely, and can even have your car home safely afterwards.
Since ridesharing has been around for years, research has been conducted and shows that these apps have had a significant impact on the number of DUI incidents, and have reduced fatalities by around 5.6 percent.
Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS)
A lane departure warning is a loud warning signal that sounds when the car veers off the road. Originally invented to prevent drivers falling asleep at the wheel during long trips (such as lorry drivers), these can also be a useful tool in preventing accidents with drivers under the influence.
Of course, they do come with drawbacks:
- The driver must take preventive measures to stop the car veering once the warning sound, it’s not automatic.
- The sensors only work if road markings are well-maintained and clearly visible.
- They aren’t a preventive measure, but help limit the chance of an accident once a drunk person is already behind the wheel.
Lane Keep Assist technology takes it one step further and the car will automatically right itself when it veers over the road markings. This is already available in several models of Audi and Toyota.
Since the early days of self-driving technology, there has been debate over whether or not someone under the influence should be able to be behind the wheel.
Even if a car does drive itself, a human presence is still required to start the car and take over should a fault happen. So are they really a safe option for reducing DUIs?
As it stands, even if your car can largely drive itself, you will still receive a DUI if you’re caught behind the wheel. However, countries around the world are already beginning to look at legislation.
In Australia, the National Transportation Commission is pushing for DUIs to exclude full automated vehicles. This is with the intention of making it easier for an intoxicated person to get home more safely than driving a regular car.
Ignition Interlock Device
This is one of the most widespread technologies already in use and the number of in-car breathalyzers in the US has tripled in the last decade.
The CDC champions IIDs and says they reduce repeat offenses for DUIs by around 70 percent.
There are currently 34 states with different levels of IID requirements for former offenders, and the laws are strengthening all the time. In fact, a national push for legislation could see all new cars fitted with IIDs as early as 2024.
Car Manufacturers Developing Alcohol Detection Systems
Many car brands already have in-car safety technology to help prevent DUIs, but there are two manufacturers in particular who are leading the race.
Volvo was the first manufacturer to launch technology aimed at preventing DUIs. Their system, Alcoguard, primarily uses cameras and a breathalyzer to monitor the alcohol level and the eye movement of the driver.
Breathalyzers are useful tools, but if the driver makes a sober friend take the reading, the car will start without issue. The additional use of the cameras also monitors the driver while the car is in use, helping to prevent accidents should the driver try to circumvent the ignition interlock device.
Nissan is currently developing a system aimed at preventing drunk driving. Like DADSS, it’s a breath-based technology which they describe as utilizing alcohol odor sensors built into the interior of the car.
If alcohol is detected, the shifter is locked and the car won’t move, preventing the driver from driving at all.
Nissan also has a facial recognition system in development which tracks the blinking patterns of the driver. When they show signs of drowsiness, the system gives a voice alert and the seat belt tightens to gain attention.
Although this system is aimed at tired drivers, not drunk drivers, it will still have a positive effect on both.
How Technology has Helped Drunk Driving Fatalities Around the World
As well as individual manufacturers, different countries around the world are implementing technologies to help reduce drunk driving fatalities. Here are some of the best results so far.
Back in the 19th century, alcohol abuse was a significant problem in Sweden, so the government took a drastic approach.
With high taxation of alcohol, strict regulation at the point of sale, and a massive shift in education and cultural attitudes, Sweden now has the lowest alcohol abuse and drunk driving rate in Europe.
Sweden also has a widespread interlock program for private and commercial drivers. The program is voluntary for individuals but all commercial and government vehicles are fitted with an interlock system.
The Random Breath Test (RBT) program in Australia is another success story. When the program was first introduced in 1988, it caused a 35 percent reduction in fatal car crashes and deaths over just four years, and continues to do well.
Poland is known for dangerous roads and so they take any self-inflicted safety risks incredibly seriously. With harsh fines and the threat of losing your license for your first DUI offense, drunk driving incidents are relatively low.
Scientists in Poland are also working on a cutting-edge tool that can detect alcohol vapor in the car as it passes by.
The laser-style device can be used by police officers to check if someone is under the influence without even stopping the car first.
The technology was first developed by the Military University of Technology in Warsaw, and successfully detected alcohol vapor in a car at a distance of 20 meters.
The limitation being the officer using the device can’t tell who in the car is drunk if there are passengers. But even so, this new technology has promising applications in the future.
Facing a DUI in Minneapolis?
Technology is forever improving to help prevent people from driving under the influence and hopefully it won’t be a distant future when it’s no longer a problem.
But we know that just because someone is charged with DUI doesn’t mean they are a bad person – they’ve just made a bad decision.
At Kans Law Firm LLC, we are the top rate DWI and DUI criminal defense lawyers in Minneapolis Minnesota. If you’ve been caught under the influence and are facing a DUI, call us today. We have successfully defended thousands of criminal cases as MN DWI defense attornies, and are here to help your case.