Drunk driving, on average, kills 28 people every day in America and costs the United States $199 billion a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With Americans’ safety at risk, what if the cars we drive are the answer to preventing drunk driving-related deaths and injuries?

That’s what new research from APHA’s American Journal of Public Health projects. According to the study, led by Patrick Carter, MD, of University of Michigan, alcohol ignition interlock devices could be key to preventing 85 percent of alcohol-related crash fatalities over a period of 15 years.

Interlock devices work by connecting a breath-testing unit to a car’s ignition switch. If a driver’s blood alcohol content reaches a specific limit, the device will prevent the car from operating.

Researchers estimated the impact of installing the devices into new cars over a period of 15 years using 2006-2010 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the National Automotive Sampling System’s General Estimates System. The study further estimated the cost-saving impact of the devices.

Findings revealed that a policy mandating universal use of alcohol interlock devices could save more than 59,000 lives and prevent 1.25 million non-fatal alcohol-related crash injuries. That means 85 percent of alcohol-related crash fatalities and 84 percent to 88 percent of non-fatal crash injuries could be prevented.

Drivers ages 21-29, who are considered to be most at risk for alcohol-related crash injuries, could expect the greatest benefit, with 35 percent of the prevented deaths and injuries occurring among that age group. Implementing such policies would also save $342 billion in injury-related costs, the study said.

“Emerging technological advances and greater public awareness of interlock devices are likely to aid in overcoming barriers to their inclusion in all new vehicles,” the authors write in the study.

They acknowledge that “universal interlock installation is likely several years away,” but it’s worth pondering: If self-driving cars are becoming a reality, why not cars that prevent drunk driving, too?

The study is now available via open access. For more about the study and other new public health research, visit the American Journal of Public Health.