In 1849, pioneers traveled five months from Independence, Missouri to Boise, Idaho along the Oregon Trail. Today, that same trip takes 21 hours via I-80. But every fairy tale has its Rumpelstiltskin; every innovation has its price.

In 2012, more than 33,000 people perished on American roads. “While we’ve made substantial progress over the past 50 years,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “It’s clear that we have much more work to do.”

Who would have guessed that those solutions may come from Silicon Valley?

Ignition Interlock Systems Stall Drunk Drivers

Approximately one-third of all fatal automobile crashes involve inebriated drivers, most of whom are soaking drunk with BAC levels of 0.15 or more. What if there was a way to keep these irresponsible party-goers off the roads?

Repeat DUI offenders often use ignition interlock devices. A driver must submit a clean breathing sample into a built-in breathalyzer prior to every ignition. If he fails, the car will not start. Any tampering is recorded and may be considered a felony.

Such devices are not user-friendly enough for mass distribution, however. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety research effort is investigating tissue spectrometry, which can detect alcohol levels through skin sensors mounted on the steering wheel.

V2P Wireless Technology Protects City Streets

Much ado has been made about vehicle-to-vehicle communication, which some estimate can reduce multi-vehicle collisions by 80 percent or more. But some auto makers, like Honda, also look to vehicle-to-pedestrian technology. A proprietary smartphone application, buried in the pedestrian’s pocket, exchanges GPS data with a nearby car’s ECU through a local Wi-Fi network. If the two are en route to a collision, the car squeezes its brakes, and the smartphone squeals in warning.

Remote Parental Controls Tame Prom Night

No longer does handing over the keys mean handing over responsibility. Parental control systems, such as Ford MyKey, offer a suite of remote parental controls. In MyKey, the parents have one key; the kids have another. When in teen mode:

• Top speed can be limited to 80 mph.
• Maximum volume can be limited to 44 percent.
• The radio can muted until all passengers are buckled.

Other web-based services allow parents to set a GPS geo-fence, and if their youth cross that designated boundary, a text message alert will be sent to the parents’ phones. Some systems may block explicit radio stations or halt incoming text messages.

Every innovation has its price, but that price need not be paid in lives. But even as automated safety technology progresses, drivers must remember that safety is a conviction, not a switch to be flicked on and off.