Breathalyzer ignition interlockEnlarge Photo
For years, elected officials and federal agencies have debated whether automakers should be required to equip new vehicles with alcohol ignition interlocks -- devices that verify a driver's blood alcohol level before she's allowed to start the car. Adding them would surely increase the cost of a new car, but how much would they save?
According to researchers at the University of Michigan Injury Center and the U-M Transportation Research Institute, the answer to that question is nearly $23 billion and 4,000 lives, per year.
THE ARGUMENTS FOR INTERLOCKS
Several years ago, Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Bob Corker (R-TN) introduced the Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere (or ROADS SAFE) Act. Though the bill didn't require automakers to install alcohol ignition interlocks on new cars, it aimed to spend $60 million over the course of five years to develop and improve such devices. Unfortunately, the bill never went anywhere.
Two years later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pushed lawmakers to mandate interlocks. Sensing the gridlock on Capitol Hill, the agency didn't insist that they be placed on all new cars, just on the vehicles of those convicted of drunk driving -- even first-timers.
Last summer, though, it appeared that NHTSA was planning a more aggressive approach, working with two suppliers to develop interlocks that could be placed on all new vehicles. No word on how that work is going, though one of the two suppliers -- Takata -- has bigger issues to contend with just now.
Meanwhile, some smartphone app developers are hoping that the U.S. will follow France's lead and require motorists to carry breathalyzers in their cars. Dozens of booze-sniffing apps are currently working their way toward phones.
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LIVES & MONEY SAVED
Of course, when it comes to legislation and regulation, officials often prefer to be swayed by cold, hard facts. (Often, but not always.) And so, the U-M Injury Center and U-M Transportation Research Institute pulled out some fancy math formulas to project how many lives and dollars alcohol ignition interlocks could save over a 15-year period.
The team reached its conclusions by compiling stats on the proportion of annual, alcohol-related crashes relative to crashes as a whole, focusing its attention on accidents that took place in vehicles that were less than one year old. It then repeated the analysis for a total of 15 years, deriving a decade-and-a-half's worth of projections.
Here's what the team found: