Despite Virginia's relatively tough drunk driving laws, impaired drivers continue to plague the state's roads, causing thousands of car accidents each year. In 2013, alcohol-related crashes caused over 5,000 injuries in Virginia and killed more than 250 people – about a third of all traffic fatalities that year.

Keeping young drivers alive and safe

A recent study out of the University of Michigan asks the interesting question: What if cars had built-in mechanisms to prevent drunk driving? The answer, it seems, is quite dramatic. Over the next 15 years, the researchers estimate, installing anti-DWI devices known as ignition interlocks on all new vehicles sold in the United States could eliminate 85 percent of drunk driving deaths. On a national scale, this would mean eliminated 59,000 unnecessary fatalities as well over a million non-fatal injuries.

Young drivers – specifically those under 30 – would be the age group most affected by the widespread implementation of ignition interlocks, the researchers found. According to the analysis, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, the inclusion of ignition interlocks as a standard safety feature on all new vehicles would prevent about 481,000 deaths and injuries among drivers between the ages of 21 and 29, as well as another 195,000 deaths and injuries among drivers under 21.

The researchers conducted their analysis by creating a model based on the proportion of drunk-driving crashes involving new vehicles (those less than one year old) and then repeating the analysis across a 15-year time frame. Although universal adoption of ignition interlocks may sound like an expensive proposition, the researchers estimate that the measure would actually pay for itself in just three years as a result of losses prevented. Over the projected 15-year implementation period, the estimated societal savings would amount to $343 billion.

Protecting Virginia motorists from drunk drivers

Here in Virginia and elsewhere in the United States, ignition interlocks are already in use, albeit on a far smaller scale. Virginia's ignition interlock law, which is one of the strictest in the nation, requires the devices for all convicted drunk drivers, including first-time offenders.

The devices, which function much like the breath-testing machines used by police, can be attached to a car's ignition system to prevent it from starting unless the driver provides a breath sample to prove that he or she is not under the influence of alcohol. Ignition interlocks have shown to be an effective method of preventing known drunk drivers from re-offending and thereby reducing drunk driving accidents.

If you or a family member has been hurt in a crash with a drunk driver in Virginia, it is important to understand that you have rights and that you may be able to recover monetary compensation for your injuries, lost wages and related expenses. Contact the personal injury lawyers at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi, PLLC, to discuss your specific circumstances and the options that are available to you.