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US looks to curb highway deaths through drunk-driving prevention technology

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Car accident (Shutterstock)
Car accident (Shutterstock)

US highway deaths increased in 2012 for the first time since 2005, prompting the US government to say it would speed up research on safety systems that would keep drunk drivers from getting on the road. According to a report from the Associated Press, highway fatalities increased to 33,561 in 2012 — to bring the figure back down, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is calling for automakers to include the safety systems found in higher-end cars in more and more of the vehicles they manufacture. "We need a new vision and a new blend of technological research to address some of the most significant and persistent threats to American motorists," said NHTSA head David Strickland. "We must look to technological intervention to make the next great leap, and get them poised for fleet adoption as soon as possible."

Specific innovations that the NHTSA would like to see automakers roll out to more vehicles include collision detection — a system that warns drivers before they run into another vehicle. Those systems also can apply brakes automatically before a collision, potentially reducing a crash's impact. The agency also wants a new alcohol-detection system that differs from current options which force convicted drunk drivers to blow through a breathalyzer before their car will turn on. This new system wouldn't require anything beyond a driver putting his hands on the wheel and pressing a start button. The NHTSA sees a system like this being added to cars as standard equipment, whether or not a driver had been convicted of driving under the influence. "The automatic system would be enabled every time the car is started, but unobtrusive so it would not pose an inconvenience to the non-intoxicated driver," says the NHTSA.