Decreasing drunk driving: Should all cars have breathalyzers?

family of four in car

If there was a safety feature in cars that could prevent thousands of deaths, would you support it? We asked drivers if breathalyzers should be required in all cars. Read on for the results.

Keeping roads safe, one breath at a time

The lives of yourself, those you're driving, and others on the road are the number one priority. With 10,511 deaths from drunk driving in 2018 alone, there's nothing more important than safety.

An in-car breathalyzer, also known as an "ignition interlock device," is designed for safety — specifically, to prevent drunk driving. Currently, state-certified technicians install breathalyzers in vehicles after a driver gets a DUI (driving under the influence). But what if breathalyzers were a normal part of starting your car, like turning the keys in the ignition or putting the car into drive, to help stop drunk driving before it happens?

We surveyed 2,000 Americans on whether all vehicles should come with breathalyzers installed and what they think the biggest impacts of this change would be. Read on to discover:

Required breathalyzers: a polarizing proposal

If breathalyzers were a required feature in all cars, current legislation and the auto-manufacturing process would need a major overhaul. MADD is pushing for legislation requiring auto manufacturers to include the devices as standard safety features similar to airbags. But the technology would need to be perfected before being rolled out, especially since acceptable BAC levels vary by state. The proposed "Reduced Impaired Driving for Everyone" (RIDE) Act would funnel $25 million in federal funding to research and testing.

It wouldn't be a small feat, but some feel it's necessary. When asked if breathalyzers should be required, 35% of respondents answered "yes."

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So how exactly do they work? Before a person can start their car, they exhale into the mouthpiece of the breathalyzer, which measures the alcohol content in their breath. Alcohol on the breath correlates strongly with blood alcohol concentration (BAC), so the device is an accurate way of determining if the driver's BAC is within the legal limit of .08. If the reading is more than .08, the device blocks communication between the starter and the ignition, preventing the car from starting.

One man's hassle is another man's lifesaver

When asked what the biggest impacts of breathalyzers in all cars would be, the most popular answer was "reduced incidents of drunk driving" — and those respondents weren't wrong in thinking so. Studies prove that breathalyzers are an effective way to stop drunk driving. According to MADD, breathalyzers have stopped 2.3 million drunk driving attempts.

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But respondents thought installing breathalyzers in all cars could have negative impacts as well, including infringement of rights and freedom (27%), increased hassle and frustration (26%), and hindered transportation during emergencies (14%).

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Can tech solve the drunk driving crisis?

Technology has the ability to add an additional layer of safety when judgement becomes impaired — or better yet, keep drivers from getting to that point. Below are three innovative tech solutions that help prevent drunk driving and save lives:

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  • The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS): This consists of a two-step process for ensuring driver sobriety. First, a breathalyzer on the steering wheel detects BAC level. Then, an infrared button on the ignition detects alcohol content under the skin's surface via touch. It's even smart enough to detect if someone in the passenger's seat pushes the button. This technology is backed by two U.S. senators who aim to make these devices required in all vehicles.

  • Ridesharing apps: For those of us without in-car preventative technology, ridesharing apps are by far the most common and affordable tool to ensure a safe ride after a few drinks. And while research isn't conclusive, a study published in The New York Times found that since the rollout of Uber, alcohol-related accidents in New York City have decreased by 25-35%.

  • Other smartphone apps: Apps like DrinkControl for iOS and AlcoDroid for Android act as calculators to help you determine your approximate BAC level. They keep track of how many drinks you've had over a span of time and allow you to view your drinking history. Apps such as Alcohoot, combined with a device you plug into your phone, act as a personal breathalyzer so you can measure your BAC before deciding if it's safe to drive.

A safe transportation plan can save your life and then some

In addition to being dangerous, drunk driving can also be expensive. Very expensive. In fact, we estimated that a DUI conviction could cost you almost $9,000. Exactly how much you'll pay depends on the state, how high your BAC is, and if you were involved in an accident where someone was injured.

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In addition to legal fines, a DUI can hike up insurance premiums — often for a number of years — because you're now deemed high-risk by the insurer. How much premiums increase ranges between 50% and 300% depending on state car insurance laws.

While the ability to drive can make transportation surprisingly painless, it's important to remember that driving is a privilege, not a right. And that privilege can be taken away if it's not used responsibly. Since breathalyzers do not yet come standard in cars, it's on drivers to stay safe. Whether you decide to stay in, get a rideshare, or volunteer to be a designated driver, the most important thing is that you have a merry — and safe — holiday season.

Remember: a DUI makes things complicated. Safe driving keeps things simple. And at Esurance, we like simple. That's why we're committed to making car insurance and all things driving-related surprisingly painless.


NHTSA | MADD (1,2) | AJPM | | | | Justia


This study consisted of two survey questions conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. The survey ran during November, 2019.

Related links

3 Situations when you should have a designated driver
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How a DUI affects car insurance premiums
Your driving record plays a major role in determining what you pay for car insurance.

The science of drunk driving
We'll clarify how alcohol impacts a driver's ability and how blood alcohol levels are determined.

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