If every new car made in the United States had a built-in blood alcohol level tester that prevented impaired drivers from driving the vehicle, how many lives could be saved, injuries prevented, and injury-related dollars left unspent?
Researchers at the University of Michigan Injury Center and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute studied the impact of installing alcohol ignition interlock devices in all newly purchased vehicles over a 15-year period.
They concluded that the country could avoid 85 per cent of crash deaths attributable to alcohol-involved motor vehicle crashes during the 15-year implementation period. That would mean preventing more than 59,000 deaths, the team reported in a paper published online in the American Journal of Public Health.
Another 1.25 million non-fatal injuries would also be prevented, they calculated, as the nation would see a reduction of 84-89 per cent.
And when it comes to dollars, all these lives saved and injuries prevented would save U.S. society $343 billion over 15 years. In fact, the cost of installing the devices would be recouped after just three years.
“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,” said lead-author Patrick Carter, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the U-M Medical School and core faculty at the U-Michigan Injury Center.
This is the first study in the United States that models the impact of a universal policy installing alcohol interlocks on all new vehicles sold in the U.S.
Though the injury prevention benefit was apparent for all ages, it was greater for younger drivers.
Among drivers age 21 to 29 years, 481,103 deaths and injuries would be prevented, nearly 35 per cent of total deaths and injuries for all age groups. Drivers less than 21 years old who engaged in drinking while driving would also benefit substantially, with 194,886 deaths and injuries potentially prevented.
“It is often difficult to penetrate these age groups with effective public health interventions and policies to prevent drinking and driving,” says Carter. “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.”