Alcohol linked to 60 percent of wrong-way car accidents

In the beginning of January 2013, a woman was killed in a wrong-way car accident on a bridge in Salisbury, Massachusetts. Local authorities assert that a 50-year-old man in a 1999 Lincoln Town Car drove north on the southbound side of the Gillis Bridge when he crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Police suspect that the motorist was under the influence of alcohol.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) recent car accident report, over 300 fatal wrong-way collisions occur each year in the United States. Moreover, approximately 60 percent of these collisions involve alcohol. With this in mind, the NTSB affirms that eliminating drunk driving is perhaps the clearest way to reduce wrong-way fatalities and injuries.

To combat the problem, the NTSB has issued a statement encouraging states to mandate ignition interlock installations in the vehicles of all convicted drunk drivers. An alcohol ignition interlock tests a motorist's breath for alcohol levels. Prior to operating a vehicle, a driver must submit a breath sample into the device. This system prevents a car from starting if the driver's blood alcohol content is too high.

In addition, the NTSB calls for development of in-car technology that determines the blood-alcohol level of a driver. Unlike interlock systems, this new system would rely on passive information provided by the driver, such as air in the cabin of the vehicle or sensors on the steering wheel. The proposed technology would be installed in all vehicles and not interfere with the conventional driving routine.

Seventeen states require interlocks for first-time offenders. According to madd.org, Oregon and Arizona saw a reduction in drunk driving fatalities by more than 50 percent after all-offender interlock laws were passed. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found reductions in repeat offenses due to interlocks.

As Massachusetts law currently stands, only offenders with more than one drunk driving conviction are required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles. Such persons must use the system for a period of two years as a condition of having their licenses reinstated after a suspension. The offender is responsible for all costs associated with the system, including leasing, purchasing, installation, maintenance and removal.

Hopefully, state legislators will consider the NTSB's research and proposals in the development of future laws. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, seek the advice of a skilled personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your options.