National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recently released additional guidelines supporting its efforts to end drunk driving in the United States. Among these guidelines include the ongoing development of in-vehicle technology designed to identify drunk drivers while unassumingly testing them and improving highway design.
Ignition Interlock Devices
Ignition interlock devices (IIDs) work by requiring the driver to blow into a breathalyzer mounted inside the vehicle—usually on the dashboard—before permitting the vehicle to start. These devices analyze breath samples to ensure that the individual providing the sample is not intoxicated. The biggest problem with earlier IID technology is that intoxicated drivers could have another, sober person blow into the device. Modern devices have augmented the technology to obtain periodic ambient air samples to ensure the driver is not driving drunk.
The NTSB has also recommended that all 50 states should require ignition interlock devices (IIDs) for any motorist convicted of a DWI/DUI. Currently, only 17 states mandate IIDs for first-time offenders and, overall, IIDs are only required for approximately one-third of convicted drunk drivers across the country.
For information on Minnesota’s IID program, visit the state Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS)
One of the areas attracting ongoing attention is continuing research in the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) that tests drivers via breath or touch. The NTSB calls DADSS promising; however, it also acknowledges that it will take years to perfect.
Once current technological hurdles with DADSS are overcome—and public acceptance is obtained—then the DADSS system has the potential to be installed as standard equipment on all motor vehicles, thus eliminating drunk driving and saving over 7,000 lives per year.
Opponents to the universal installation of such technology worry that drivers will fret over their vehicles starting after having a beer or glass of wine with dinner, thus virtually eliminating responsible social drinking. Further, these same opponents assert that IIDs are necessary only for hard-core, repeat DWI/DUI offenders.
Another concern with in-car technology is the inability to detect drivers who are under the influence of drugs. Whereas many states have added DWI/DUI drugs to their criminal statutes and codes, there is still no definitive method for preemptively testing motorists for drug intoxication, nor is there any specific threshold number to determine whether a driver is, in fact, intoxicated.
Highway Design and Wrong-Way Drivers
One of the largest yet oftentimes overlooked culprits of vehicular accidents include those resulting from motorists driving the wrong way on divided highways. In fact, over 300 people die annually from such accidents. The biggest problem with these accidents is their increased lethality due to the fact that 80 percent of these collisions are head-on at high rates of speed.
The NTSB claims that both alcohol consumption and age play a strong role in these “wrong way” crashes. In fact, as many as 60 percent of these accidents stem from alcohol-impaired drivers, many, oftentimes, with high impairment levels. According to NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, over half of impaired drivers involved in wrong-way collisions have blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) more than twice the legal limit of .08.
Additionally, age plays a role in approximately 15 percent of these crashes in that many of these drivers are over age 70. Reasons for high rates of automobile collisions among the elderly include prescription medication use, dementia, and diminished cognitive abilities.
Another oft-overlooked cause of wrong-way accidents is highway design. From motorists entering the highway the wrong way to confusing clover-leaf interchanges, highway design to accommodate the growing number of drivers is increasingly responsible for wrong-way accidents.
The NTSB recommends that highway designers improve street markings, signage, and lighting to warn drivers who are attempting to enter a thoroughfare the wrong way. Previous suggestions for using global positioning system (GPS) tracking and road spikes were nixed because of the potential privacy and safety issues which may ensue.
The Next Step
Drunk driving has been and continues to be a widespread problem. Despite ongoing discussion and technological advances, the problem continues. Compounding the problem is the need to balance compelling government interests with protecting individuals’ constitutional privacy rights.