Smart Car Ignition Lock May Prevent Alcohol Related Deaths

As many as 60,000 deaths could be prevented by the installation of alcohol ignition interlock systems on new smart cars, according to recent research. Together, the University of Michigan’s Injury Center and Transportation Research Institute are looking into the devices and what the overall impact would be on the amount of deaths and injuries related to impaired driving.

Researchers studied preventable deaths if the locks were installed in all new purchased vehicles over a 15-year period, and concluded that 85 percent of crash deaths due to alcohol could be avoided, which would equate to over 59,000 lives saved. These findings were reported in a paper published online in the American Journal of Public Health. Additionally, 1.25 million non-fatal injuries could be prevented—a reduction of 84 to 89 percent.

The socioeconomic benefits of alcohol ignition interlocks would include savings totaling $323 billion over the 15 year period. The interlock systems could pay for themselves after only three years.

Lead author of the paper, Patrick Carter, M.D., said, “We knew our modeling would yield significant results, but the sheer numbers of preventable fatalities and serious injuries were surprising. 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.”

This is the first study of its kind, and included data sets that are traditionally used in analysis of vehicle crashes: The Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the National Automotive Sampling System’s General Estimates System data sets.

The group most highly impacted would be drivers close to the legal drinking age.  A total of 481,103 alcohol-related deaths and injuries could be prevented in drivers aged 21-29, almost 35 percent of total deaths for all age groups. In alcohol impaired drivers younger than 21, 194,886 deaths and injuries could be prevented.

“It is often difficult to penetrate these age groups with effective public health interventions and policies to prevent drinking and driving,” Carter said. “By capitalizing on recent technological advancements that make alcohol-detecting sensors seamless to the driver and applying such technology more broadly to all newly built vehicles, we can actually have a substantial injury prevention impact among traditionally hard-to-reach high risk populations.”

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