If all new cars had devices that prevent drunk drivers from starting the engine, an estimated 85 percent of alcohol-related deaths could be prevented in the United States, a new study concludes.
The devices, called alcohol ignition interlocks, could prevent more than 59,000 crash fatalities and more than 1.25 million non-fatal injuries, according to the University of Michigan researchers.
The findings appear in the American Journal of Public Health.
“Alcohol interlocks are used very effectively in all 50 states as a component of sentencing or as a condition for having a license reinstated after DUIs, but this only works for the drunk drivers caught by police and it doesn’t catch the people who choose to drive without a license to avoid having the interlock installed,” said lead author Dr. Patrick Carter.
He said most drunk drivers make about 80 trips under the influence of alcohol before they are stopped for a DUI. “If we decided that every new car should have an alcohol ignition interlock that’s seamless to use for the driver and doesn’t take any time or effort, we suddenly have a way to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries that doesn’t rely solely on police,” he told Reuters.
The study assumed it would take 15 years for older cars to be replaced with new vehicles that required interlock devices, which detect blood-alcohol levels. The devices prevent drivers above a certain threshold from starting the vehicle.
While all age groups would suffer fewer deaths and injuries if they used the interlock devices, the youngest drivers would benefit the most, the study found. Among drivers ages 21 to 29 years, 481,000 deaths and injuries could be prevented. Among drivers under 21, almost 195,000 deaths and injuries could be avoided.
“It is often difficult to penetrate these age groups with effective public health interventions and policies to prevent drinking and driving,” Carter said.