What would it take to disband MADD, Century Council, DrinkingAndDriving.Org, and other groups who don’t want you to drink and drive? Simple. A lack of drunk drivers!
There is a downward trend in drunk driving fatalities (although they still average more than 12,000 each year) and there are three main forces at work bringing this number down.
The first force bringing down these numbers is the increasing penalties for drunk driving. This force is largely borne from the efforts of groups like MADD and Century Council. Stiff laws act as a deterrent for many people and sometimes making them even stiffer will broaden the effect. But there usually comes a point where the penalties become stern enough to dissuade most rational people. A saturation point of effectiveness is reached beyond which the number of people deterred ceases to increase. If a DUI is already going to cost you between $7,000 and $20,000 plus a year of restrictions on your license and maybe even some jail time, who out there is waiting for the penalties to get harsher before they’ll stop from getting behind the wheel after drinking?
The second force bringing down DUI fatalities is public attitude. Increased awareness and understanding (as pushed by groups like DrinkingAndDriving.Org) help people to make better choices. This same awareness and understanding leads to a common view now shared by most that drinking and driving is in fact, a downright stupid thing to do. We laugh at the foibles of stars like Paris Hilton and Mel Gibson; unless we are fans. Then we feel an uncomfortable embarrassment. Like fans of the Bengals or the Richard Petty Racing Team. Part of what amazes us when we see somebody famous get a DUI is the knowledge that these people are generally surrounded by a very supportive group of people, many of whom we suspect must condone this kind of behavior. As more of us ‘get it’ and refuse to drive drunk or let those around us drive drunk, the ones who don’t get it begin to stand out.
The third force bringing down DUI fatalities is the ever-increasing number and effectiveness of standard automotive safety features. The technology with the biggest impact in the last 30 years has been the airbag. Looking back 20 years ago, few cars on the road had airbags. Even 10 years ago, when most cars sold had airbags as standard equipment, the majority of cars on the road still had no airbags. Today, the number of cars with airbags in use is larger than the number of cars without. It is quite literally more difficult to die in a car that has features like airbags, crumple-zones, and collapsible steering columns, than in a car without them. The lives these technologies save include victims of drunk driving accidents.
There is another automotive safety feature which in the distant future may become standard equipment. It is the ignition interlock device. In our article, “Personal Tech – Avoiding DUI with Devices” we describe the current state of the technology behind ignition interlock in detail. In this article from the Government Technology website, ignition interlock systems are shown to reduce the rate of repeat offenses drastically … while installed in the vehicle. As soon as the interlock is removed, all bets are off.
Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Put ignition interlocks in all cars and be done with it! For goodness sake, put them in planes, trains, and buses too! It’s an option that makes sense. And I believe it is going to happen.
But it’s going to take time – maybe 50 years or so. The technology is almost where it needs to be. Toyota is testing wide-scale deployment of ignition interlock devices in lines of trucks in Japan. From the measuring the impact on a driver throughout the day to determining what the best methodology for monitoring these systems will be, they are working on refining their systems to roll out in other vehicles.
New sensors are being developed to remove the need to blow, suck, and hum into a mouthpiece as evidenced by this patent for a steering wheel sensor which reads your ‘trans-dermal alcohol’ through your hands! This will make the process more transparent to the unimpaired driver. There will be kinks to work out – perhaps wearing gloves or wrapping the steering wheel in meat will trick early versions.
Getting the tech right is only part of the picture.
Laws will need to be written compelling auto manufacturers to add the systems as standard equipment. Those laws will be written to give companies time (years) to comply. Servicing and calibrating ignition interlock devices may become something done at the dealer. As we say in our article, with ignition interlock Location is Everything! Because the breathalyzers currently used in ignition interlock systems need to be recalibrated occasionally, getting this done conveniently will be an issue to be worked out.
Eventually, say in another 20-30 years or so, major auto companies will have ignition interlock as standard equipment. Give us another 20 years or so after that before the older cars without ignition interlock dwindle significantly in numbers.
50 years from now, If the numbers of drunk driving incidents became low enough MADD would have to shift its most of its focus to what is already one of their core targets – teenage drinking. A major rebranding effort would be in order. They would still be mad. They would still be mothers. But they wouldn’t be against drunk driving anymore. Century Council would face less of a rebranding effort because their focus has been a bit broader all along. There will always be a need for responsibility training. DrinkingAndDriving.Org is already becoming a known resource for finding a designated driver.
That may be the most compelling thing we will have going for us by then. And it should keep us busy! If nobody has a car that can be driven drunk, but people are still drinking (as we KNOW they will), then designated driver services will experience an extraordinary boom in demand. DrinkingAndDriving.Org will possibly dissolve and re-emerge as a union or some type of umbrella group for designated driver services across the country.
But all of this speculation about what will happen in 50 years does not change the fact that another 12,000 will die in America this year. And next year. And the year after that. Face it. Hundreds of thousands will die before ignition interlock systems are in all cars on the road. In the meantime, organizations like ours will be doing all we can to increase awareness, reduce drunk driving, and save lives.
As much as I like to think about a time when DrinkingAndDriving.Org is no longer needed, that time is still a long way off.