Technology could someday eliminate drunk driving car accidents in Chicago and nationwide

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety is funding a $10 million study that could make new-age ignition interlock devices as standard in new vehicles as seat belts and airbags.

The Boston Globe broke the story in the wake of criticism of the federal government for not doing enough to focus on driving safety issues aside from the aggressive campaign against distracted driving. As our Chicago injury lawyers reported recently on our Chicago Car Accident Lawyer Blog, alcohol continues to be involved in one-third of all fatal car accidents nationwide.Earlier this month the federal government reported the number of fatal Illinois car accidents declined to 911 last year, from the 1,043 reported in 2008. However, the percentage of fatal crashes involving alcohol actually increased from 34 percent to 35 percent.

Many states require ignition interlock devices for drunk driving offenders. The systems require a driver to blow into a tube and tests for the presence of alcohol before permitting a vehicle to start. However, the system being tested by a Massachusetts defense contractor would be completely passive. A number of hurdles remain — not the least of which are the privacy concerns such a system is sure to raise. But safety advocates believe it could ultimately save 9,000 lives a year. Not since the 15,000 lives a year saved by the seat belt has such a safety improvement hit the market.

Congress is considering providing another $10 million in funding to the project, which is in testing through 2013. Cost is another hurdle, as is the size of the units. Prototypes are the size of a large shoebox, while industry experts say they would need to be the size of a cell phone to make them practical.

“We just don’t think it’s appropriate that people who have no problem with drunken driving and impairment should have to be subjected to having to have this kind of a device,” Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, told the Globe. “It will create more problems than it was ever intended to solve.”

However, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other organizations intend to throw their support behind making the devices standard.

“MADD is very excited about this,” said national spokesman J.T. Griffin. “This could really eliminate drunk driving in America.”

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, contact the Chicago car accident attorneys and the personal injury and wrongful death lawyers at Abels & Annes for a free consultation . Call (866) 99-ABELS.

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