Using old technology in a new way could help end drunk driving

Fatal traffic accidents caused by drunk drivers in Massachusetts are in sharp decline recently, dropping far faster than the national average. Even so, however, the latest federal crash data show that someone is killed by a drunk driver in Massachusetts about once every three days, on average. In addition to those deaths, many more people suffer serious non-fatal injuries due to traffic accidents caused by impaired drivers.

A new study from the University of Michigan suggests a potentially promising way to all but eliminate drunk driving deaths: including an alcohol-testing device as a standard safety feature on every new vehicle sold in the United States.

Repurposing ignition interlocks

By law in Massachusetts, and many other states, drunk drivers with multiple convictions are required to use a device called an ignition interlock, which is similar to the machines that police use to test drivers' breath for alcohol during traffic stops. By connecting to a vehicle's ignition system and requiring a breath sample before starting the car, the devices can be an effective way to keep known drunk drivers from reoffending.

In their report, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers found that traffic fatalities involving alcohol could be reduced by about 85 percent over a 15-year period if car manufacturers began including ignition interlocks as a standard safety feature. While this may seem far-fetched, it is important to remember that the vehicle safety systems drivers take for granted today, such as air bags, anti-lock brakes and even seat belts, were once considered cutting edge.

Different views of drunk driving crash data

According to federal crash data, alcohol-related traffic accidents claimed 118 lives in Massachusetts in 2013. Statewide, this was a decline of 8.5 percent from the previous year, compared to a national decline of just 2.5 percent during the same period.

The Commonwealth also has one of the nation's lowest drunk-driving fatality rates relative to the number of miles driven, with 0.21 deaths per million miles driven. Nationwide, that average is significantly higher at 0.34 alcohol-related deaths per million miles driven, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While this is encouraging news, the statistics appear more gloomy when framed another way: Alcohol is involved in about 36 percent of all traffic deaths in Massachusetts, compared to 31 percent nationally.

Legal representation for people hurt by drunk drivers

Impaired drivers who kill or injure other people in Massachusetts can be held financially liable for the damage they do, in addition to any criminal penalties they may be facing. If you or a loved one has been hurt by a drunk driver, contact the personal injury lawyers at The Law Offices of Joseph J. Cariglia P.C. to learn how you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries, lost wages, medical bills and other losses.