Study Finds Interlock Devices in All Cars Could Save 59,000 Lives Lost to Drunk Driving

If all cars had built-in technology that prevented an alcohol-impaired driver from starting and then driving the vehicle, 59,000 lives could be saved over a 15-year implementation period, according to a new study.

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The researchers from the University of Michigan Injury Center and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute who issued the report also concluded that if ignition interlock devices were placed on all cars, 85 percent of drunk driving crash deaths and 1.25 million injuries could be prevented, saving $343 billion over 15 years. The cost to society of installing the interlock devices would be recouped in just three years, according to the study.

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“Our analysis clearly demonstrates the significant public health benefit and societal cost savings associated with including alcohol ignition interlock devices as standard equipment in all new cars,” said study lead author Patrick Carter, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the U-M Medical School and core faculty at the U-M Injury Center.

In 2013, 10,076 people died in drunk driving accidents in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), representing 31 percent of all car accident deaths. The situation was worse in South Carolina, where 44 percent of all traffic fatalities occurred in drunk driving crashes, according to NHTSA.

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The upcoming Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the summer travel season, and with it an increase in car accidents related to drunk driving. USA Today reported on a study from the National Safety Council, which estimates the number of car accidents on and around major holidays. The report showed Memorial Day weekend has 13.1 percent more traffic deaths than non-holiday weekends, with an estimated 407 deaths nationwide.

In summer, the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) partners with other agencies for the Sober or Slammer! (SOS) impaired driving crackdown, which includes high-visibility enforcement and public education efforts aimed at preventing collisions and fatalities. Last year, 141 people died in traffic crashes between Memorial Day and August 14 in South Carolina, according to the SCDPS.

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“Even though we are seeing a decline in overall fatalities in our state, in 40 percent of those deaths, alcohol continued to be a factor,” SCDPS Director Leroy Smith said in a press release. “Our goal through SOS is to bring attention to these statistics and encourage the public to help us put an end to drunk driving in our state.”

Last year, South Carolina strengthened its ignition interlock law. Anyone convicted of drunk driving with blood alcohol content of 0.15 percent or higher must use the device for six months following a license suspension, whether it is a first or subsequent offense.

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The legal limit for drunk driving is a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. Those with a second drunk driving conviction must use an ignition interlock device for a minimum of two years. A third conviction results in using the device for a minimum of three years, and a fourth conviction requires lifetime use of an interlock.

Although interlocks may help prevent impaired drivers from taking to the road, far too many motorists in South Carolina still drive while under the influence of alcohol. If you have been seriously injured in a drunk driving accident, it’s important to seek help from an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible.

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