Imagine a world with fewer injuries resulting from crashes with drunk drivers at the wheel, and even fewer deaths caused by those kinds of crashes.
Imagine a world in which motor vehicles are intelligent enough to prevent inebriated persons from taking to the roads. You might imagine vehicles that emit an electric hum as they glide by on spherical tires, complete with onboard digital butlers and graphical heads-up displays (HUDs) projected on the windshield. You might imagine some time decades in our future.
As it turns out, the future is already here.
Okay, it may be years more before Jarvis-inspired digital assistants and HUDs are commonplace in vehicles, but we do already have the technology to prevent would-be drunk drivers from starting their vehicles, and that technology is already being implemented across the United States. Ignition interlock devices (IIDs) are aftermarket sensors that can be installed in vehicles as a means of reducing or preventing drunk driving.
The idea behind IIDs is relatively simple: a vehicle with an IID installed cannot be started without a breath sample first; if the device detects a breath alcohol concentration that is above the device’s preset threshold, the vehicle will not start. After the vehicle’s engine has been started, the IID will require additional breath samples at random intervals, in an effort to ensure that the person driving the vehicle is the same person who provided the initial breath sample. It would be dangerous to allow any device to shut off a vehicle’s engine while in motion, so IIDs have instead been designed to flash the vehicle’s lights and honk the horn repeatedly to alert law enforcement if a breath sample is not provided at one of those random intervals, or if the device detects alcohol in the new sample.
Current IIDs represent the infancy of this developing technology, which makes them unsuitable for mass adoption; special training is required to use the devices, they are in constant need of calibration in order to work properly, and they are difficult to maintain. Despite these limitations, IIDs have been widely endorsed by traffic safety agencies and advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for limited use because they are effective. MADD, in a 2015 study of the efficacy of an IID pilot program in California, writes that IIDs are the “best available DUI countermeasure.”
For now, in states where they are used, IIDs are only required to be installed in a person’s vehicle after the person has been convicted of driving while intoxicated, but there has been some effort to require all new cars to be equipped with similar—if more advanced and currently unavailable—technology. In ten years or less, it is possible that all new cars will come standard with simple, durable, and accurate IIDs. When that happens, our roads will be safer than they have ever been, and we will be one step closer to completely eliminating the driving safety issues caused by human failings.
Last stop: autonomous vehicles capable of outperforming human drivers in every way, every time.