Fighting Drunk Driving with Technology

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It was only two hours into July 5th and my entire world had become altered without my consent. I lifted up my head, in a dazed and confused state, almost like when you are just awakening from a dream and quickly trying to conjure up and summarize what just flashed by. The only difference was that my face felt like it had been punched in, over and over, not something I’d previously experienced following a slumber. I subconsciously knew I was awake, but I convinced myself otherwise. In these moments I was unaware of a number of things: we were hit by a drunk driver and my best friend was dying. Technology should be developed to prevent accidents caused by drunk driving. By adapting laws to technology, putting better focus on who is being penalized, and continuing research on vehicle prevention systems there would be great strides in prevention.

Primarily, prevention for drunk driving has been sought after in changing current laws or creating new ones. America has taken big steps in reducing the number of deaths in relation with drunk driving from the early 1980s through the mid 1990s, but since then the deaths have stalled at around 13,000 a year (Kesmodel). Many laws have been passed in states across America, and they are for the use of interlock devices when penalizing drunk drivers. Now that this technology has been adapted and is more cost-effective, it’s an efficient step to keeping drunk drivers off the road. In Nebraska, Senator Mike Flood is looking to replace the license revocation law with an interlock device approach. It would be more effective, for example, due to the fact Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles spends approximately $1 million yearly just to run the revocation program. Also, national studies showed that most individuals who have their license revoked keep driving regardless if they have a temporary license or not (Savage).

Unfortunately, the term drunk driver can be led astray by its true definition. The “hard alcoholics” are easy to pin the title on, but then there’s contemplation when it comes to a college student guilty of their first offense. Many advocates argue that technology is the only solution to the problem at hand, but in fact there is not one quick fix. Danielle Rober, with the NTSB says, “Treatment, probation, ALR and interlocks all support changing behavior and that is the way to prevent repeat offenders” (Savage). Mothers Against Drunk Driving have been fighting Century Council, distillers fighting drunk driving and underage drinking, for more focus on who is targeted and how they are penalized for their drunk driving offense. MADD believes, “the Century Council places too much emphasis on so-called hardcore drunk drivers and not enough on confronting the broader problem of all people who drink and drive” (Kesmodel). In his book, Barron H. Lerner exemplified how drunk drivers have been viewed:

“A similar tolerance characterized the attitude of law enforcement toward social drinkers who chose to drive. One explanation for this situation stemmed from the common use of the term drunk driving itself. If it was drunk drivers who were menaces on the road, the implication was that it was the heaviest drinkers- that is, the alcoholics- who were mostly at fault. But the term social drinker deserves equal scrutiny (Lerner 23).”

MADD is pushing for not only repeated, but also first-time offenders, to have interlock ignitions installed into their vehicles. The organization also said it “agrees that hardcore drunken drivers, often defined as those with repeated offenses and very-high blood-alcohol levels, must be targeted,” but they also emphasized that “many deaths are caused by drivers with no previous arrest record, and those exhibiting blood-alcohol levels lower than 0.15%” (Kesmodel).

Several plans, concepts, and research are being put into drunk driving prevention vehicles. In 2006, MADD announced a plan consisting of their support for “research of technology that one day could enable cars to automatically detect if a driver’s blood-alcohol level is over the legal limit and, if so, keep the vehicle from starting” (Kesmodel). The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) research program is a national research effort of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety. The drive-able test vehicle is expected to be ready in about two years, in 2013. Vice President Rob Strassburger explains that “the new technology won’t hassle sober drivers because it won’t require any upkeep or maintenance, and it will precisely stop a driver only when their blood-alcohol content is at or exceeds 0.08 BAC” (Auto Alliance).

Nissan has also been conducting their own concept for a prevention car, and both of these systems use similar approaches. Hi-sensitivity alcohol sensors are built into the transmission shift knob and seats. They are able to detect the presence of alcohol in the perspiration of the driver’s palm; a facial monitoring system monitors the consciousness and signs of drowsiness of the driver; and the driving behavior monitoring detects any distraction or swerving. If any of these are triggered some of the following would occur: seatbelt mechanism grasps the driver, the transmission locks, or a voice alert goes off (Nissan). This research proves that technology could bring huge leaps in drunk driving prevention. MADD National President Janet Withers says that “DADSS has the potential to prevent an estimated 8,000 drunk driving deaths a year” (Auto Alliance). Jennifer Forsythe, an outstanding citizen who witnessed and helped at the scene of my accident, stated that, “Until we try something we will never know what the next step should be. It does seem, however, that some progress could be made considering the type of technology we have today. I can tolerate change if it means the difference between someone’s life or death.” This exemplifies that as a society, we are ready for this upcoming technology.

Even though the numbers are decreasing in drunk driving, one person still dies every 50 minutes in an alcohol related crash (Savage). Imagine a drunk driver getting into a vehicle, and as they starts the car it recognizes the driver is intoxicated. The car shuts off and sends out an alert. With the new technology concepts this will soon be a reality. Cars will have the power to stop someone from endangering themselves or other innocent drivers like myself and best friend. By utilizing technology we already have today, new prevention concepts, and serving focused penalization drunk driving and its resulting deaths could be significantly reduced and ultimately prevented. We now live in a world where impersonal devices can perform such a highly personal job like saving a life.

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