According to the CDC, one person in the U.S. dies every 50 minutes due to impaired driving, with the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totaling more than $44 billion. Considering that almost 50 billion people worldwide are left injured or disabled by crashes—with an annual cost to the US alone of almost $1 trillion—increased safety and prevention initiatives are essential.
It’s heartbreaking for me to witness the devastation of car crash survivors and their families on a daily basis. It’s particularly disheartening to be aware of just how many crashes are alcohol-related and could have easily been prevented. My crash survivor patients always ponder what could have been done, if anything, to prevent their accident; usually, there are a multitude of "if only's." If only they hadn’t taken that road; if only they left 10 minutes later; if only they rode their bicycle to work that day; if only they had planned ahead for a designated driver.
Can Car Crashes Be Prevented?
There are two things we know for certain: Impaired driving kills and impaired driving is entirely preventable. In my book on car accident recovery, I share an interview with a first responder on drunk driving. Hearing him recount the numerous horrific injuries and deaths caused by drunk drivers is sobering, to say the least. It takes but a second—and for some people, just one glass of wine—to forget that alcohol impairs judgment. How many times have you heard someone say that they’re fine to drive after drinking or that they haven’t had that much to drink and can handle their alcohol?
Of particular concern are teen drivers that frequently engage in risk-taking behaviors such as driving under the influence of alcohol. A requirement by insurance companies for vehicles to have in-car breathalyzers that either will not operate if the state alcohol limit is exceeded or a system that will alert local police to the impaired driver’s location could go a long way towards crash prevention. Many would argue this feels too much like state control over individual choice and freedom. However, in my view, it stands to reason, as driving under the influence is a criminal offense.
Recently, I was pleased to hear about a federal infrastructure bill in the works that would require auto manufacturers to install technology to prevent drunk driving. According to an article in Time, the technology may involve passive monitoring of a driver’s breath, eye scans to check for focus, or infrared touch tests on ignition buttons.
As part of the spending plan for the bill, further accident prevention initiatives will include rear guards required for semi-trucks, an in-car reminder to check for children in the back seat to prevent leaving them in a hot car once the engine stops, and a study using crash-test dummies to accurately measure accident impacts on young and elderly people, as well as women. Research shows that children and women are particularly vulnerable to the effects of traumatic brain injuries and much more needs to be done to protect these populations from being injured in a crash.
The passing of the federal bill will rely heavily on feedback from the U.S. Department of Transportation on costs and effectiveness. It’s worthwhile to note that along with potentially saving more lives, ride-share, tech, and insurance companies all stand to profit.
It's all too easy for us to forget that when we get behind the wheel of a car, we are accepting the risk of bodily harm to ourselves and to others. We have sadly become desensitized to the endemic of car crashes as cars are the most widely used mode of transportation. Personally, I hope that the passage and implementation of a new federal bill would encourage us to focus more on safe driving practices and lead to increased communication and collaboration with lawmakers, auto manufacturers, insurance companies, and governments. A cohesive, informed, combined approach is crucial for us to reduce all crash-related injuries and deaths. As we share the roadways, so must we also share in the responsibility for safety and crash prevention.
Suggested Reading & Resources
CDC. “Impaired Driving.” CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/impaired_driving/index.html
James F. Zender, PhD (2020). Recovering from Your Car Accident. The Complete Guide to Reclaiming Your Life. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
MADD. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). US. https://www.charities.org/charities/mothers-against-drunk-driving-madd
Philip Elliott. “Buried in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill: In-Car Breathalyzers.” Time, August 3, 2021. https://time.com/6086981/bipartisan-infrastructure-bill-breathalyzers/
Roadpeace-The National Charity for Road Crash Victims. UK. https://www.roadpeace.org/