Guest Blog: Drunk Driving, New Technologies, and Hope for the Future | Center on Addiction

Guest Blog: Drunk Driving, New Technologies, and Hope for the Future

Guest Blog: Drunk Driving, New Technologies, and Hope for the Future

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At the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), we’ve worked very hard to help reduce deaths and injuries from automotive crashes due to drunk driving. Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in the past 10 years have declined by 21 percent. That’s progress. But it’s not enough. In 2013 alone, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes—one death every 52 minutes.

While we know our strategy of educating the public and supporting local law enforcement’s efforts to arrest drunk drivers is making a difference, roughly one-third of highway deaths each year are due to drunk driving. It’s time to augment what works with new tools that just might help stop drunk driving in its tracks.

We’ll never let up in our education and enforcement efforts because we know they work. That’s why we’re again partnering with law enforcement on our Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over high-visibility holiday crackdown. This year’s crackdown, which starts today and runs until January 2, 2015, involves more than 10,000 participating police departments and law enforcement agencies that will be out in force to protect the public and get drunk drivers off our roads. These efforts are supported by a $14 million dollar U.S. DOT national advertising campaign conveying NHTSA’s Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over message.

But we can also back up the efforts of law enforcement with technologies that prevent drunk drivers from ever getting on the road. NHTSA is currently working to advance technology that will prevent someone who is drunk from ever getting behind the wheel and harming themselves or others. It’s called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS, and it could prevent someone who is drunk from driving off and risking lives.

There are a number of hurdles to clear before we can bring DADSS technology to cars and trucks—it has to be quick, accurate, seamless and unobtrusive. We can’t afford false negatives that could allow a drunk driver on the road to risk the lives of others or false positives that could cause consumer rejection. But a technology with this much potential to save lives must be pursued. In 2015, we expect to have ready a test vehicle that incorporates this technology so automakers could begin choosing to integrate it into cars and trucks within the next five to eight years.

For every preventable drunk driving death there are countless survivors whose lives are tragically and forever altered. The pain of a drunk driving death reverberates though a family and a community. By each of us doing our part as policymakers, advocates, and researchers, we may one day save those people and families from the agony and loss of drunk driving.

David Friedman is the Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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