On Tuesday afternoon NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman led a meeting discussing recent investigations concerning wrong-way accidents. The meeting adjourned after arriving at the conclusion that deep lung devices (DLD’s) should be assigned in an effort to mitigate the frequency of wrong-way accidents. DLD’s are the devices that evaluate the driver’s breath for traces of alcohol before he or she is allowed to start the vehicle. If the driver passes, the car starts; if the device detects a BAC higher than its designated limit, the car doesn’t start. DLD’s are regarded by the NTSB as a very effective method in keeping the roads free of impaired drivers, so they would naturally be explored as a solution to combat wrong-way accidents. The controversy in Chairman Hersman’s request, however, is that it would require all states to install these devices on every DWI offender’s vehicle – even first-time offenders.
Chairman Hersman frequently referred to the notion of “automobility” in her argument: the idea that we are an automobile-centric nation. It’s an accurate observation by the Chairman and she uses it to illustrate that the amount of time we are spending in cars naturally makes us more vulnerable to violent accidents with other drivers. Regardless of whether someone is impaired or not, we are all more susceptible to serious injury in an automobile accident just based on our increased exposure to the road. But is the proposed solution a responsible way for the problem to be addressed? Should first time offenders be treated in a manner usually reserved for someone who has made the mistake twice, or even three times?
Additionally, the NTSB discussed some technological improvements that can help avoid these types of accidents in the future. GPS designs with built-in wrong-way alerts are a proposed solution, and the NTSB strongly advocates a passive alcohol detection initiative for all vehicles, not just those of previous offenders. But more practical alternatives were proposed as well: improved signage and highway design could benefit elderly drivers (a group that was heavily represented in the studies).
In discussing these avenues for prevention, the Chairman made an interesting remark: “A rising tide does lift all boats”. The phrase was intended to comment on how developing a solid prevention solution could benefit all drivers—but there is still more wisdom in the phrase. Similar to Chairman Hersman’s illustration, the tide of automobility is also rising, and with it all drivers are increasingly vulnerable on the road. The risk of fatality will only increase with the amount of time we spend in our vehicles, so how should wrong-way accidents be prevented in the future?
Should all drunk-driving offenders be subject to a DLD installation? Is this a reasonable way to discourage drunk driving, or does it treat certain offenses too severely?