In 1991, Laura Dean Mooney's husband Mike was killed by a drunk driver and Laura was left alone with an 8 month old child. And, although we've made progress, 19 years later, drunk driving continues to be a deadly problem in the United States.
In 2009, 10,839 people died nationwide in crashes involving a drunk driver. These deaths make up 32 percent of all fatal crashes, and are 100 percent preventable.
On Friday, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland and I took a first look at new Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) technology. DADSS detects blood alcohol content in drivers and prevents alcohol-impaired drivers from operating their vehicles. This technology is designed to be less intrusive and less complicated than current ignition interlock systems.
Last May I wrote about DADSS research, citing estimates that nearly 9,000 lives could be saved by a system that prevents driving by those over the generous legal limit for alcohol. The next step, I blogged, would be testing a prototype. That day has arrived.
At the QinetiQ company's lab in Waltham, MA, we were joined for a DADSS demonstration by Shane Karr of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Laura Dean Mooney, now President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). QinetiQ employees demonstrated one system with a touch-based approach and another with a breath-based approach.
During the demonstration, a lab volunteer was given two vodka drinks 30 minutes apart. Using both the touch-based and breath-based prototypes, the woman registered a .06 blood alcohol level, so she would have been able to start her car.
NHTSA research shows that drivers with blood alcohol levels above the .08 legal limit who are involved in fatal crashes are eight times more likely to have had a prior conviction for impaired driving than drivers who had no alcohol in their bodies at the time of a wreck. Preventing those drivers from operating vehicles is absolutely crucial to lowering the number of people killed in drunk driving crashes each year.
But let me be clear: DADDS will not prohibit people from enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at the game.
DOT and its safety partners like MADD have made significant progress toward keeping our roadways safe from drunk drivers. Because of strong laws, consistent enforcement, and increasing public awareness, drunk driving-related fatalities have declined by more than 40 percent during the last three decades--and by 20 percent during the last three years.
But when almost 11,000 people die in alcohol-related crashes every year--the equivalent of one drunk driving death every 48 minutes--our work is far from done.
We cannot afford to overlook technological solutions that prevent drunk driving fatalities. So I'm excited to see tools like DADSS under development, and I'm proud that NHTSA is partnering with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to get this important job done. This is a terrific example of government and private industry working together to improve public safety.
As Laura Dean Mooney said: "Auto makers have stepped up to help turn cars into the cure. This project has made substantial progress, and this technology could one day be an important step in our efforts to eliminate drunk driving."
No one should have to go through what Laura Dean Mooney went through, or get that awful knock on the door she received 19 years ago. DOT has made great progress in improving the safety of America’s roads, but they must be safer.