Last year in the Garden State, there were 526 serious traffic accidents resulting in 560 fatalities, according to statistics from the New Jersey State Police.

A new study suggests, 22% of the people killed in those crashes might have been saved through the use of passive alcohol sensor devices.

“In the past we’ve tried to change driver behavior, but another way is to have sensors inside the vehicle that detect if you’ve been drinking,” said Chuck Farmer, the vice president of Research and Statistical Services for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

He pointed out ignition interlock systems are already in use in New Jersey and other states, requiring drivers convicted of DUIs to blow into tubes to start their vehicles and to keep them moving — the system tests their blood alcohol content, and shuts down the car if it's above the legal limit. But this kind of system is not practical for widespread use.

“I don’t think the public is going to go for that. It’s an awful lot of trouble just to drive the car, so we want something much more invisible,” Farmer said. "We want something that will do the same work and is more technologically advanced, but also very acceptable to people having it in their vehicles.”

He said that ‘something’ is “a sensor that you don’t even notice is sampling the air around you to see if there is alcohol in it, and then responding if it has to and only if it has to.”

If the sensor detects the blood alcohol level of the driver is over the legal limit, the vehicle would not start or be turned off.

Farmer said the idea is “to have a sensor that is close enough to the driver, maybe in the steering wheel, that can distinguish between the breath coming from the driver and the breath of other individuals in the vehicle.”

A public-private partnership called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety has developed this type of sensor, and is currently road-testing it.

He said it’s possible this type of device could begin to be offered in new vehicles by 2025.

Farmer noted in 2009 a survey of U.S. drivers found nearly two-thirds would support the installation of this type of system in all vehicles if the device was fast, accurate and unobtrusive.

He acknowledged the sensor that’s been developed is expensive, but said costs would drop dramatically if it was mass produced.

The study notes alcohol has been a factor in 30% of American roadway deaths every year for the past decade. In New Jersey the figure is 22%.

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