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Monday, July 12, 2010

Technology to Prevent Drunk Driving

Most DUI related collisions resulting in death or major injuries are caused by drivers who have never been arrested for DUI before. Many of these drivers had driven with alcohol levels above the legal limit before but, having never been caught before, continued to drive after drinking. A couple of factors contribute to this. One is the attitude of “It’ll never happen to me.” The other is the fact that alcohol affects the judgment center of the brain and many don’t realize just how drunk they are.

The biggest deterrent to drunk driving is the fear of being caught but, when someone’s judgment is altered by alcohol, that fear may not exist. Trying to take away the keys and prevent someone in that state from driving can be difficult if not impossible. There are some technologies available that could help.

Disposable Breathalyzers – A company called sells a variety of breathalyzers but the most interesting is a disposable, very cheap, breathalyzer that can be used by anyone. They use a chemical process to detect alcohol in a person's breath and are small enough to fit on a key-chain. They can be purchased in any one of four settings from zero tolerance, set at .02 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), to measure any amount of alcohol in a person’s system, up to a .08 BAC setting that measures the legal limit for all 50 states.

Instead of trying to reason with a friend who may be too drunk to drive, these tiny breathalyzers provide an independent accurate measure of a person's alcohol level. They are so effective that the US Army is now issuing these key-chain breathalyzers to its troops and are encouraging the troops to use them to watch out for their buddies when they are out for a night on the town.

They may also be an effective tool for parents to use. It is difficult to overcome peer pressure when a teen is out of sight but, knowing that they may possibly face a breathalyzer test when they get home, may be enough to keep a teen from drinking at all.

Interlock Devices – Most people are aware of interlock devices required by the court to be installed in the vehicles of convicted drunk drivers. These breathalyzers require that the driver blow a clean sample before the car can be started. To prevent a drunk driver from asking a passerby to blow a clean sample, they require the driver to blow a clean sample at random times while driving; if the driver fails to comply, the engine shuts down.

Most states require the interlock device to be installed after a second DUI offense but drunk driving victim advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are pushing for legislation to require their use after a first conviction for DUI.

Interlock Devices as Standard Equipment - An amendment to the 2010 Motor Vehicle Safety Act, calls for $40 million over the next five years to develop alcohol detection sensors and could lead to sensors becoming standard equipment in all new vehicles in as few as 5 to 10 years.

These sensors are far different from the interlock devices installed in the vehicles of convicted DUI offenders today. The research being funded will look into skin sensors in the vehicle's steering wheel that could detect the presence of alcohol in the driver's sweat, or sensors located in the driver’s headrest that can detect alcohol in the driver’s breath or perspiration. The sensors will be set to require detection of a .08 BAC level before it locks the vehicle’s ignition system.

The American Beverage Association considers this measure to be a form of “Big Brotherism” but victim advocacy groups such as MADD and driving safety organizations such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety see the legislation as a positive step to prevent drunk driving.

Low Tech Approaches – Of course the safest and most effective approach to preventing drunk driving is to not drink and drive. If you make the decision on how you will get home, either by using a designated driver or calling a cab, before you go out for a night on the town, chances are pretty good that you will stick with that decision. But, if you wait until after you have been drinking and your judgment abilities are diminished by the alcohol's effects, you may find yourself driving into a lot of trouble. Technology is great but it can’t replace good common sense.

Additional Articles:
How to Deal with Underage Driving: Tips for Parents
Tips for Safe Summer Driving: Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving

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