Before You Crank the Engine, Take a Deep Breath and Blow

Here's an interesting question: Are car breathalyzers effective?

If you’ve ever been convicted of a drunk driving offense, you’re probably more than familiar with a car breathalyzer (also known as an interlock device). And though they can be a nuisance at times, it turns out they might be the key to lowering drunk driving-related deaths and injuries.

Take a Deep Breath

A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that mandatory in-car breathalyzer tests saved an estimated 915 lives between the years 2004 and 2013, representing a 15 percent reduction in drunk-driving related deaths (compared to states without legislation requiring the ignition locks for DUI offenders) say the researchers.

Car breathalyzers work via a connection between a breath-testing unit and a car’s ignition switch. If a certain level of alcohol is detected in the driver’s breath, the device will prevent the car from operating.

The research was led by author Elinore J. Kaufman and senior author Dr. Douglas J. Wiebe, who used National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data to understand whether laws requiring these devices actually made a dent in the drunk driving problem on our roads. To do this, they examined the number of alcohol-related crash deaths in the 18 states that require mandatory interlock devices for DUI convictions and compared it to the number of alcohol-related crash deaths in the 32 states without mandatory interlocks for all offenders.

“Our findings show that by preventing intoxicated drivers from starting their vehicles, these ignition interlock laws can directly prevent drunk driving and save lives,” Kaufman said. “We are encouraged by growing public and governmental support for expansion of interlock programs and innovative ways to use this technology to prevent more lives lost resulting from drunk driving.”

Backing Up the Data

Other studies have found similar results. In a University of Michigan study conducted last year, researchers found that instituting a policy mandating the universal use of car breathalyzers could save more than 59,000 lives and prevent 1.25 million non-fatal alcohol-related crash injuries. This translates into car breathalyzers preventing an estimated 85 percent of alcohol-related crash fatalities and 84 – 88 percent of non-fatal crash injuries over a 15-year period.

Still, despite these positive findings, the University of Pennsylvania authors call for further steps to prevent needless injuries and deaths on the road. New strategies to encourage alternative forms of transportation, such as Uber and Lyft, are recommended, as well as changing the drinking culture present in our society to reduce binge drinking.

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