Bob Bestler | Alcohol sensors could lower reduce drunk driving

I don’t often drive at night, but when I do I drive with two fears.

One is hitting a deer. The other is being hit by a drunk driver.

None of us can do much about the deer, beyond hoping that hunting season and creeping urbanization will drive them deeper into the forest, away from homes and highways. Good luck on that, eh?

The drunk driver is another matter.

One only has to glance over the statistics on alcohol-related deaths to realize the severity of the problem.

The year 2009 was typical for the nation, when nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities – 10,839 – were alcohol-related.

The figures for that year were even more grim in South Carolina, where almost 50 percent of all traffic fatalities – 423 of 894 – were alcohol-related.

So you can see why I fear the drunk driver.

I’ve been there, of course.

In 2004, I was arrested for drunk driving. I’ve written about it several times, hoping to get the word to others not to get behind the wheel drunk.

My arrest was life-altering. I’ve not become a teetotaller, but since that awful night I have never had more than two drinks without a designated driver or a place to sleep.

A video of my driving, taken by the arresting officer before she could stop me, showed how lucky I am.

I’ll spare the details, but be assured that I could have killed or maimed myself or others. I will always thank God – and the North Myrtle Beach police – for saving me from myself.

The other day, the National Transportation Safety Board urged all states to require persons convicted of drunk driving, including first-time offenders, to use devices that prevent them from starting a car’s engine if their breath tests positive for alcohol.

It noted that so-called ignition-interlock devices already are required of all such drivers in 17 states and are seen as the best way to reduce the nation’s road fatalities rate.

I’d go the NTSB one further. Why not urge U.S. automakers to make alcohol sensors available as an option in all cars, either breath sensors or skin (steering wheel) sensors that prohibit the car from starting at illegal alcohol levels?

Some automakers already make sensors an option, but their availability is not widely known.

The thing is, it is not just the first-or second-time offenders who put lives at risk. Think about how many otherwise upstanding young people get behind the wheel after a night of partying.

In my case, I had never gotten a DUI until April 22, 2004 – a day that lives in infamy in my home – but I was as dangerous that night as any chronic offender.

We can do better.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.