Over the past four decades, America has had significant success at reducing the damage caused by the deadly combination of alcohol and automobiles.

Led by groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, measurements of blood-alcohol content, and the danger that a high reading can cause, are a routine topic of discussion today. Awareness of the drunk-driving problem has literally cut fatalities in half.

In 1982, according to the Responsibility.org website, there were 21,113 drunk-driving fatalities. Since then, the number of annual deaths has gone down almost every year, and in 2018, the death toll was 10,511.

That’s still a lot of unnecessary tragedy, and it does not include injuries in drunk-driving accidents – 300,000 in 2019 alone. Those who get arrested for drunken driving also pay a heavy price.

So the father of a Maryland law enforcement officer, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2015 on the side of a road where the officer had pulled over another motorist on suspicion of intoxication, asks a good question: Why don’t we require new vehicles to include technology that can analyze a driver’s condition and prevent him from starting the car if he’s drunk?

“My son would still be alive if the man who emerged from a bar with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit for driving discovered that his car automatically detected his impairment and wouldn’t let him drive,” wrote Richard Leotta on The Washington Post website. “Such technology already exists. It just needs to be put into cars.

“This includes driving performance monitoring technology that monitors vehicle movement with systems such as lane-departure warning and attention assist; driver monitoring systems that monitor the driver’s head and eyes, typically using a camera or other sensors; and alcohol detection technology that uses sensors to determine whether a driver is under the influence and, if so, prevent the vehicle from moving.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the idea already has the attention of both Congress and alcohol producers.

Leotta wrote that a bipartisan bill passed by the House last year would have instructed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop standards to equip all new vehicles with drunken-driving prevention technology. The Senate did not take up the bill but is working on bipartisan legislation of its own.

As for alcohol producers, the leader of a distilled spirits council has called for passage of such a bill. So has Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser beer and several other brands.

It’s easy to predict a possible objection to such technology: Privacy. Who wants their car to say you’re too impaired to drive?

Of course, there’s an easy answer to that question: Anyone who’s encountered a drunk driver. If this technology can save several thousand lives a year and keep drivers from violating the law, it’s a worthwhile intrusion.

Jack Ryan is editor of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi.

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