The Future of Drunk Driving Prevention

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. 


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Allen Porter
Dedicated to teaching and inspiring the prevention of drunk driving.

10 Responses

  1. Mattie Rice
    Mattie Rice April 16, 2015 at 11:46 pm |

    Making vehicle manufactures aware about the importance of installing sensors for detecting drunk drivers can reduce the number of road accidents. Government can take initiate for this plan by giving tax reductions for the companies who are implementing safety features for their vehicles. Govt. could also develop stand alone drunk driver sensors with help of engineers for make it strict to use on all on road vehicles. This will work I suppose.

  2. Sophia Fox
    Sophia Fox May 8, 2013 at 5:32 am |

    Thanks for this article. I am glad to see other writes focusing on drinking and driving preventions. Personal breath testing products are a great way to know your status before you drive.

  3. HDChaz
    HDChaz March 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm |

    In my opinion, we already have the ability to get serious about DUI enforcement, but there’s too much political pressure to enforce it. If we really want to get drunk drivers off of the road we do these 2 simple tasks;

    1 – Raise the legal limit for driving under the influence to 0.12% BAC.

    2 – Offenders tested above this limit would face a MANDATORY ONE YEAR SENTENCE

    That’s right. Straight to jail, $1,000,000 bail, mandatory one year jail time.

    This will immediately effect anyone with a doubt about driving after taking a drink. For those foolish enough to take the chance and get caught, they are not only off of the road, they are paying the price in a place where they no longer have the right to decide if they’re “OKAY to Drive”.

  4. Kaden
    Kaden August 25, 2012 at 11:49 am |

    It will take years for the Government to madate the installation of automotive breathalizers for that is one of every Counties largest money makers that the Cops go after day in and day out.

  5. DUI
    DUI October 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm |

    This is a great read.. when someone gets in a DUI accident, or gets a DUI it is already too late! Preventing drinking and driving is the only way to go. I think alcohol abuse is a big problem in America.

  6. top grade
    top grade April 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm |

    I agree with Rocco but when you are drunk, you are hardly going to administer a test! Remote sensing would be best where the cars refuses to start if it detects a drunk driver over the limit.


  7. Rocco Dibben
    Rocco Dibben October 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm |

    New vehicles ought to come standard with breathalyzers. This would cut down on drunk driving charge’s over the subsequent 5-10yrs and greatly in 10-20.

  8. Nick Habig
    Nick Habig September 24, 2010 at 10:55 pm |

    Braylon Edwards on latest DUI charge – now’s the time to ask for a bigger contract 🙂

  9. Smart Drinker
    Smart Drinker February 4, 2010 at 6:58 pm |

    Ooops…should tell you what’s its called. BAQ Tracker Mobile.

  10. Smart Drinker
    Smart Drinker February 4, 2010 at 6:56 pm |

    Just imagine, for a minute, a world where social drinkers actually self manage as opposed to having technology imposed on them. It could happen right now if every reader of every drinking and driving blog, website or twitterverse accepted accountability for themselves. The truth is, outside of a few friends of mine who have followed my lead, most people just talk about this problem but don’t see themselves as part of it. As I remind my friends, we aren’t born with an “alcostat” in our heads so none of us actually knows what our BAC is when we drink. Pretending you do is just that…pretense. I took it upon myself to do some research and found an App for my BlackBerry that measures my BAC while I drink. It has been developed by a company in Canada that develops and sells social technology tools for social drinkers. The App has been benchmarked against police quality breathalyzers and was co-developed by a forensic toxicologist. It may not be a breathalyzer (these folks sell those too), but it is a great tool for making sure I walk the talk. Superbowl Sunday is upon us…what are you doing to keep our roads safe?


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