(Bloomberg) — Putting technology that prevents drunk drivers from starting a vehicle into every car and truck in the U.S. could save 59,000 lives and $343 million over 15 years, according to a University of Michigan study.
U-M’s Injury Center and Transportation Research Institute said in the study, released Thursday, that cost savings from widespread use of ignition interlock technology could outweigh the expense of the devices after three years.
“The sheer numbers of preventable fatalities and serious injuries were surprising,” Patrick Carter, an assistant professor in emergency medicine at U-M Medical School and the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Our analysis clearly demonstrates the significant public health benefit and societal cost savings” with making the devices standard equipment in all new vehicles.
Current ignition interlock technology prevents a vehicle from being started if a driver’s breath registers a certain amount of alcohol. The devices have been around since the 1960s, and in recent years some states have mandated their use for convicted drunk drivers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2013, the most recent data available, 10,076 people died in crashes related to drunk driving, a 23% decline from a decade earlier.
The U.S. agency and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, a group that includes all major automakers, in 2008 formed the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety to develop “a first-of-its-kind technology” to detect and prevent intoxicated drivers.
The technology would be a “seamless” part of the driver experience, using biometric readings via fingerprint or infrared breath analysis.
“The goal is to develop a system that can accurately and reliably detect when a driver is above the legal alcohol limit and that could be offered as original equipment in new cars on a voluntary, market-driven basis,” Gordon Trowbridge, a NHTSA spokesman, said in a statement.
“It’s too early to predict” when the joint effort’s technology will be available, he said. The research phase is expected to continue through 2018.
The current devices are available only as after-market equipment.
“Automakers will have to be convinced, and make sure that the costs of the technology are something that consumers are willing to pay for and they want,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.