Some drivers who are convicted of drunk driving are required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles. These are portable breath tests connected to the vehicle, and they won’t allow the vehicle to start if the driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) is at or above a predetermined level. While these systems are inconvenient and somewhat expensive, they allow a convicted drunk driver to retain driving privileges while ensuring that they cannot drive drunk.

What if alcohol-detection systems were easier to use, less obtrusive and came standard in every vehicle? How many lives could be saved? How many DUIs could be prevented? These were questions at the heart of a recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

According to the report, alcohol impairment is a factor in about 30 percent of U.S. car accident deaths each year. The number of lives that could be saved with alcohol-detection systems would depend on what the BAC limit was set to. But according to the IIHS report, even if the BAC was set at the current legal limit of 0.08 percent, the number of lives saved annually could be as high as 9,409.

The report also said that law enforcement agencies make about 1 million arrests per year for alcohol-impaired driving. Because someone can still be driving impaired even if their BAC is under the legal limit, alcohol-detection systems would likely not prevent all arrests. But they would significantly reduce the overall number.

The technology for alcohol-detection systems may seem like science fiction, but it already exists. Some researchers are developing a system that can measure a driver’s BAC by analyzing the ambient air in the vehicle. That means the driver would not need to blow into a device. Simply breathing normally would allow the system to conduct a test.

For alcohol-detection systems to become widespread enough to be effective would likely require a government mandate, which might seem overly intrusive to some. But it is important to remember that all auto safety features (including seatbelts) were once new and novel, then offered as an extra feature, then finally mandatory. These devices could be the same.

Until or unless alcohol-detection systems do become part of the driving experience, we need to rely on personal responsibility and hold drivers accountable when they violate the law. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a drunk driver, please discuss your rights and legal options with an experienced personal injury attorney.