Alcohol detection system could prevent tragedies

Colleen Sheehey-Church

Earlier this month, I had the honor of standing with leaders of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Congress and the auto industry for the global introduction of technologies that could eventually lead to the end of drunken driving as the leading cause of highway deaths.

As a mother who lost a son in a drunk and drugged driving crash, this was a dream come true — progress toward a vehicle that would prevent drunk drivers, at or over the national standard of 0.08 BAC, from taking the road so that no more families would have to face the tragedy of losing a loved one in an entirely preventable crash.

The technologies shown at DOT headquarters are the product of a research program known as DADSS — Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety — which is a partnership between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry, represented by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety. The goal is a publicly supported noninvasive system that stops someone who is drunk from driving but does not impede sober drivers.

This research activity, which began in 2008, was authorized by Congress in 2012 with support from traffic and child safety advocacy groups, the insurance industry, elements of the alcohol industry, state safety and transportation agencies, AAA, the trucking industry and the auto manufacturers.

Breath-based and touch-based systems have been developed. While citing the “enormous potential” of DADSS, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind also pointed out that there is “a great deal of work to do, but support from Congress and industry has helped to achieve key research and development milestones.”

Five to eight more years of research is anticipated. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York, great champions of MADD, announced plans to introduce legislation to extend the program for several more years.

Is this effort worth it? Even with the substantial progress made in reducing drunk driving deaths since MADD was started 35 years ago, there are still more than 10,000 drunk driving fatalities each year. A recent study by the University of Michigan Injury Center and University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute estimates that over 15 years a system such as DADSS can save 59,000 lives, prevent 1.25 million injuries and save $343 million in societal costs.

Yes, it is worth it.

On behalf of the thousands of MADD members and supporters who work to assure that there will be “no more victims” of drunk driving, I commend NHTSA, the auto industry and all supporters of DADSS. I look forward to standing with them again when the biggest milestone is reached: DADSS-equipped vehicles ready for sale to U.S. motorists.

Colleen Sheehey-Church is national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.