Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Surely It's Time to Make Alcohol Interlock Devices Mandatory on Freight Trucks

US Authorities Finally Showing an Interest
Shipping News Feature

US – WORLDWIDE – We make no apologies for returning once again to the subject of driver controls when it comes to drunk driving. As with vaccines etc. there will always be those who rail against their perceived 'freedom to choose' but this is a subject that kills more than one person an hour in America alone. Put simply, all new cars, and particularly large vehicles like freight trucks, should be fitted with alcolocks.

Alcolocks, or as some prefer alcohol interlocks, are a readily available technology and make sense in every way. Even from a financial point of view the cost of deaths and serious injuries due to drunk driving can be balanced against a competitively marketed technology with several manufacturers already having devices in production.

Unfortunately the authorities worldwide have generally dithered about mandating safety measures, think seat belts for example and how many people at the time who said they would refuse to wear one. Interlocks have been available since 1969, ironically firstly from Borg-Warner, which supplied many parts fitted as standard to automobiles of all types.

Now, in many US states alcolocks, fitting to the standard required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are compulsory in vehicles operated by any driver who has a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI). Last week the agency quietly requested information from interested parties to update it on available or late stage technology in the field. Responders have until 11 January to get back to the NHTSA on the matter.

It may be of course that the government department is simply staying abreast of what is out there. Many however believe it is the first step to getting manufacturers to fit the equipment as standard, as opposed to following parallel courses which some vehicle makers have undertaken.

Nissan, for example, really picked up this ball and ran with it, testing sensors on the steering wheel that detect alcohol (and possibly other substances) in the drivers sweat, alcohol sensors in the air conditioning plus facial recognition looking for ‘unusual behaviour’ such as sleepiness and presumably even more dramatic conditions such as stroke or fits.

The reaction of the technology to this could then be adjusted accordingly, in Nissan’s concept vehicle the seatbelt would tighten sharply to rouse the driver. Volvo also pushed the message home last year when it announced its own programme to check factors like sudden lane changes and vowed to start a conversation regarding the right of manufacturers to install these technologies whether or not the public agreed.

As we have said many times before, not installing devices to prevent a vehicle being driven when the driver has consumed alcohol, should not be a matter of choice, but a mandatory requirement. Despite the fact that, in the UK at least, some lorry and van drivers still believe that they are not obliged to wear seat belts, this is not the case. Both driver and passenger must do so if they are fitted, and the cases this does not apply are rare (reversing or driving to a point less than 50 metres away, or medical grounds).

It is to be hoped that the US authorities will now take a lead in this matter and mandate the fitting of alcohol interlocks to all heavy trucks at the very least in order to eat into the horrendous statistic that in the US 30% of fatalities on the road involve alcohol. As Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) said of the numbers killed across his home continent:

“If two passenger planes fell out of the sky every week in Europe, the public and political response would be transformational.”

Photo: The aftermath of an incident caused by a drunk truck driver in Germany earlier this year (courtesy Polizei Münster).