According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2005 there were 16,885 alcohol-related fatalities in traffic crashes. About 40% of all traffic-related deaths are alcohol-related. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), activities that have reduced fatal alcohol-related fatal crashes include minimum legal drinking age laws, “zero tolerance” laws, sobriety checkpoints, stronger DUI prevention activities, special penalties in some states to protect children from drunk drivers, and reviews of community-based interventions by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (an independent, nonfederal panel of community health experts).
A blue-ribbon panel of experts was appointed on November 20, 2006 to study new technologies aimed at decreasing drunken driving on the nation’s roadways. Members of the technology panel include the U.S. Transportation Secretary, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) vice president, as well as other groups. According to Susan Ferguson, the IIHS vice president, “We need to take a close up look to determine which of these technologies are up to the job. We can’t catch all of the drunk drivers on the road before they get into accidents.”
Some of the technologies being considered in this study include:
- Ignition interlocks that screen alcohol-breath and prevent a vehicle from starting if the breath test is failed.
- Infrared cameras that monitor eye movement to determine whether someone has been drinking.
- Tissue spectroscopy that uses a light on the skin to analyze its chemical makeup and alcohol content.
Forty-five states allow courts to require ignition devices. Some states already require ignition interlocks for first time drunk driving offenders. In many other cases, courts do not order them, despite laws in 20 states requiring them for repeat offenders. Last year, an estimated 80,000 interlock devices were on the roads, in contrast to the 1,400,000 drunken driving arrests.