Drunk driving has long been a serious problem in the United States. Although some states certainly have higher rates of drunk driving than others, there are issues regarding it across the country. Much of the debate surrounding drunk driving focuses on how effective laws and prevention programs may be. Some of these laws can be particularly strict. In Michigan, for example, a driver that is under 21 can be charged with a “zero tolerance” OWI offense. This means that if there is any amount of alcohol in the driver’s system, they can be charged. The problem, according to some opponents, is that people of all ages still tend to drive drunk. They aren’t necessarily being dissuaded by penalties. And if people are hitting the road regardless of penalties, they’re also causing serious injuries and even deaths.
Some argue that the problem can’t necessarily be solved legally, at least not entirely. Rather, it needs assistance from new technology. If people aren’t intimidated by the fact that a second DUI in Pennsylvania can result in a five- to six-month-long jail sentence, perhaps they can be stopped by drunk driving prevention technology.
The concept of this technology is not new. Many have been calling for the federal government to focus on it for years now. In fact, some would argue that the type of technology currently being explored and pioneered should be applied to all new vehicles. Though the issue remains hotly debated, there are promising developments ahead that could change the future of American roads.
New Attitudes Towards Drunk Driving Prevention Tech
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has long ignored calls for them to research drunk driving prevention technology. But in November 2020, they finally indicated that they were listening when they submitted a request for new information late- and end-stage technology designed to detect when drivers were impaired. Furthermore, this technology will prevent those impaired drivers from starting their cars. Now, a request will not force automakers to apply this type of technology to their new vehicles. But it suggests that there is an interest from the NHTSA to taking this kind of approach to auto safety.
Ideally, this will push lawmakers towards providing legislation that will require automakers to adapt to this type of technology. Without legal requirements in place, many of them may resist altering their designs. In fact, versions of impairment detection technology have been available for some time. They have even been used by drivers under certain circumstances.
Impairment Detection Technology, from Then to Now
In 1969, the first type of impairment detection technology for automobiles was created. This was an on-board interlock alcohol-sensing device installed on a steering wheel. Since then, it’s been estimated that if every driver were to have this type of device on their vehicle, as much as 30% of all deaths on American roads could be prevented. This would mean that as many as 9,409 lives could be saved each year. This leads many to wonder why this technology hasn’t already been mandated by the NHTSA.
The reality that it can take a long time for the NHTSA to adapt to technology that may later seem obviously beneficial. For example, both airbags and seatbelts were not initially required for vehicles, though they’ve since saved thousands of lives. This in part because the auto industry firmly pressures the NHTSA to avoid implementing such reforms. It costs the auto industry a great deal to change their vehicular designs. When this type of technology is legally required, furthermore, every car will offer it; therefore, it doesn’t necessarily represent a financial gain for the industry. Additionally, many American drivers don’t understand the full benefits offered by this type of technology. Therefore, they don’t want to pay more for new cars or alternately pay to have new technology installed on their existing vehicles. Indeed, a 2009 survey revealed that about two-thirds of all Americans would be happy to add an impairment detection device to their cars, provided that the device was unobtrusive, accurate, and fast. However, fewer than half of them would be willing to add this type of device to their cars if they needed to pay extra for this kind of system.
Although there is an additional cost required to add this type of technology to a car, the technology itself certainly isn’t obtrusive. New sensors can actually detect the presence of alcohol in a driver’s breath simply from the ambient air within a car. They, therefore, don’t need to breathe into a tube. Another device can detect alcohol within a driver’s skin as they press the ignition button on their vehicles. The process isn’t painful; it simply shines a light through the first few layers of skin. At this time, these sensors still need to be refined. Though they can detect alcohol, they cannot detect the level of alcohol in an individual’s blood. If America instituted a blood alcohol level of zero, this would not be a problem.
An additional argument in favor of this type of technology is that it prevents the need for the police to get involved in drunk driving incidents. If drivers are simply unable to drive drunk due to the technology installed within their cars, then the police do not need to be involved. People won’t be charged as often, and for that matter they won’t be profiled as often, reducing the risk of violent encounters.
Nissan’s Explorations of Drunk Driving Prevention Technology
Nissan has actually been exploring drunk driving prevention technology already. In 2007, the automaker developed a car that could monitor a driver’s state of consciousness through the blinking of their eyes. After detecting drowsiness or drunkenness, the car’s system would emit a loud noise and tighten its seatbelt, pushing the driver to pull over.
Self-driving cars could potentially guide drivers to pull over. However, it could be some time before automakers explore this type of technology further. It’s crucial for American drivers to understand the value of this type of technology and push lawmakers to require it in the future. Not only will this keep us safer; it will also prevent us from dealing with the legal headaches and dangers associated with drunk driving. You don’t want to have to rely upon a bail bond agency to act as surety and pledge money or property in order to bail you out of jail following a DUI charge. This type of technology can prevent us from making the types of mistakes that land people in that kind of situation. Why shouldn’t we embrace it?