Thursday, September 24, 2009

Technology Can Eradicate Drunk Driving

As someone who was seriously injured and almost killed 2 years ago by a drunk driver while crossing the street in lower Manhattan, I have been closely following the relevant legislative issues such as ignition-interlock devices. While I strongly support legislation requiring that anyone convicted of drunk driving install an ignition-interlock device, this would not have protected me from the 21 year old, with no priors, who sped down 8th Avenue with a BAC of 1.8, swerving around the cars stopped at a light and through the intersection just as I was crossing the street with a group of friends. In fact, of the nearly 1.5 million drivers arrested for driving under the influence, 1 million of them have no prior conviction of drunk driving.

I first heard of interlock ignition devices from a MADD volunteer, who suggested that I ask the D.A. to include it in the drivers sentence, which I, of course, promptly did. Once I realized that technology existed which could have prevented the accident, I started thinking that in addition to requiring that it be installed in the cars of anyone caught driving under the influence, we should really require that all new cars be equipped with such technology. After all, isn’t the primary goal of any government to protect its citizens from dangers posed by individuals or entities, and to make public areas and roads safe?

Recent research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that two thirds of Americans feel the same way that I do, and support putting alcohol detection systems in all cars, and manufacturers and non-profit organizations are now developing the technology that would make this vital public safety measure a reality. However, it is obvious that self-regulation has not worked well in regards to drunk driving and it seems apparent that it is time for the federal government to get involved.

There are an estimated 13,000 fatalities and over half a million people injured in the U.S. every year in alcohol-impaired traffic accidents, and it’s estimated that 30% of Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash during their lives (MADD). The national health and economic costs resulting from these accidents are astronomical. Injuries sustained in car accidents range from relatively minor ones which can still permanently affect quality of life, to the more serious such as paralysis or brain injury (with car accidents being the leading cause of Traumatic Brain Injury). In addition, the economic costs related to health care, lost wages and property damage are estimated at $114.3 billion, the majority of which are borne by the victims, not the offender. Add to that the government expenditures involved in enforcing the relevant laws (apprehending, convicting, and incarcerating the offenders), and the numbers make this a national issue that demands a concerted focus on trying all reasonable solutions to eradicate the problem.

The simple solution of requiring that all new vehicles be equipped with alcohol detection systems will prevent most, if not all, drunk driving accidents within a few years, along with the terrible effect they have on so many lives. Moreover, the cost of implementing this change is far less than the cost of drunk driving accidents to this country every year.