More than 10,000 people die every year as a result of drunk driving, according to the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In the past five years, incidents of drunk driving have increased by 35 percent, MADD notes. “Drunk driving is still a huge problem,” MADD Chief Government Affairs Officer J.T. Griffin says.
But thanks to advancements in technology, the roads of the future may be safer.
The most obvious reduction in deaths may come from driverless cars. “With 94 percent of traffic crashes being due to human error, and a third of crashes being due to drunk driving — period — we feel that driverless technology is a good opportunity to eliminate drunk driving altogether,” Griffin says. “We’ve been big supporters of that.” He oversees MADD’s advocacy efforts at a federal and state level working with lawmakers and opinion leaders to develop better that would prevent drunk driving incidents.
States are preparing for the day that driverless cars will become commonplace. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 33 states have introduced legislation on driverless vehicles as of 2017, the most recent data available.
To help raise awareness of the possible impact that this technology may have on the problem of drunk driving, MADD is partnering with Waymo, the autonomous car division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. “We have a Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, and we’re focused on technologies that would make a difference in the vehicle,” Griffin says.
Griffin acknowledges that some people may be skeptical about the safety of driverless cars, but he expresses hope that their comfort levels will rise once the technology is made more widely available. “From MADD’s perspective, our role in this is educating people as to the cause of death on the roadways and why new technologies like these are so important,” he says. “For example, most wrong-way crashes involve drunk driving. If vehicles can talk to each other and stop each other from running into one other, that’s a great opportunity to help prevent drunk driving fatalities.”
Monitoring your BAC
Besides supporting the advancement of driverless cars to help reduce drunk driving, MADD is focused on advocating for ignition interlock technology. According to LifeSaver.com, ignition interlock uses a breathalyzer to test a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and determine whether they are too drunk to drive safely. If the technology deems the person is inebriated, the car won’t start. MADD supports that technology in all 50 states.
A similar technology, Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, has the potential to help prevent drivers from operating a vehicle while drunk, Griffin said. According to MADD, one version of this technology would read a driver’s BAC through his or her fingertips, while another would sample his or her exhaled air.
Reducing the dangers
Even now, automatic breaking and various driver assistance systems are helping minimize potential human error on the roadways. “Those are technologies being developed on the way to a fully autonomous future,” he says.
Getting in the car of someone who seems to be intoxicated — either your or someone else — no longer has to be an option. Most people have computers in their pockets that can virtually hail a ride home.
“It’s going to take some time for autonomous vehicles to fully penetrate the U.S. fleet of cars,” Griffin says. In the meantime, new technologies will make roads safer. “It’s about making people understand there are other options to drunk driving,” he says, “and the importance of planning ahead.”