That’s the number of people who have died in drunk traffic accidents during the time it took me to get this article published. That is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, or child.
Worst? These deaths were completely preventable. The technology that could have stopped them already exists. I know this because I built it. It is here and it is ready to reduce the number of drunk road deaths that happen every year. We just have to use it – but for reasons beyond my control, that doesn’t happen.
For most of my life, I wasn’t particularly concerned about drunk driving – mostly because it never affected me personally. But that changed instantly on a fateful day in 2010. A friend of mine, Tessa Conradi-Marrella, was killed by a recidivist drunk driver. She was completely sober and did everything right. On the other hand, he drove recklessly with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that was three times the legal limit. He also had a long history of driving while impaired. In other words, he was exactly the type who should have had an ignition lock (colloquially known as a “blow-n-go”) on his car that would have prevented him from getting on the road. This technology already existed then. But why wasn’t it used?
That was the day I decided to do something about the problem.
Go ahead a few years and a dozen prototypes, and I’ve developed a number of products to help two specific groups of people: those who received a DUI and don’t want another, and those who didn’t get one and want to keep it that way .
For the first group, I developed CheckBAC – a smartphone-based system that allows DUI recipients to complete their court-ordered trial period with a discreet and inexpensive remote alcohol monitoring device that costs hundreds less than other systems. It is part of an ecosystem that allows the user to receive notifications when they need to take a blood alcohol concentration test and then upload the test to a management platform. No more peeing in cups or driving to the probation office to dump data. It’s faster, more affordable, and more convenient for everyone involved.
The second product is SOBRDRIVE, an app that essentially looks like having an assistant in your pocket who will proactively help you make good decisions – even after taking one too many tequila shots on Taco Tuesday.
Here’s how it works: You know you’re going out tonight and getting tipsy. So take out your phone and launch the SOBRDRIVE app. You then choose a BAC level between 0.01 and 0.05 (because anything goes beyond that and you are likely already making bad decisions that you will regret in the morning). Once you’ve selected a BAC level, the app will lock your vehicle and you’ll need to blow a BAC lower than what is set in the app. If you go past this level, the app will automatically send a text message to one or more pre-selected drivers who have your GPS location, BAC level and video. It also gives you options for Uber / Lyft and you can retest every 15 minutes until you are below the BAC limit. This is basically one way to proactively prevent DUI.
The rest of the roadblocks
Creating these tools was the easy part. Bringing them into the world is a far greater challenge. Despite the fact that affordable, accessible ignition lock technology has the potential to save lives, it is being held back by the forces of politics, bureaucracy, and pay-to-play capitalism.
Case in point? There are currently two bills in Congress specifically aimed at stopping drunk driving: the 2019 RIDE ACT and the newly introduced HALT Act. They are sponsored by Sens. Rick Scott (R-Florida), Tom Udall (D-Utah), Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), David McKinley (R-West Virginia) and Kathleen Rice (D-New York). The only problem? These bills are sadly behind the curve. They would allocate more than $ 50 million to “research” the effectiveness and effectiveness of ignition lock technology, rather than using those funds to actually incorporate the technology into automobiles.
The price to install SOBRDRIVE in a vehicle is $ 125. That’s 400,000 vehicles that could have been equipped for testing in the United States last year. I knocked on Scott and Udall’s doors for two years, but to no avail. There’s no good explanation why none of these politicians are going to have a phone or zoom meeting with our team. I’ve also tried getting Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to help me and get government attention – but without a hefty donation, even the world’s leading drunk driving organization isn’t going to give me the time of day. Apparently, the lifesaving technology isn’t enough to get their attention.
This is not a fight that will be resolved overnight, but if we can save another Tessa Conradi from being killed by a drunk driver who was never allowed to drive without the ignition for the rest of his life, then we will have great influence.
It can’t save everyone, but it could save someone!