03/07/2013 01:35 pm ET Updated May 07, 2013

Dodging Drunks

Drunk drivers kill over ten thousand people a year. We can reduce that to just about nothing -- good for those of us not killed and the tens of thousands of us not crippled and maimed. And we don't have to jail anyone to do it.

Auto manufacturers and the government are feverishly developing passive, unobtrusive devices that instantaneously measure a driver's blood alcohol as the car is about to start. Too drunk, and the car politely says so, declining to start. Sufficiently sober, and the driver never knows she was even tested.

When you go to the doctor, the nurse clips a plastic piece on your index finger to measure your blood oxygen. An infrared laser beam penetrates a short distance into your skin. A sensor reads the light bouncing back.

The same technology fits in a steering wheel rim or gear shift knob and measures blood alcohol. Other prospects include a facial recognition camera responding to closed driver's eyes and a dashboard sensor measuring alcohol on the driver's breath.

As these sober sensors are perfected and costs come down, manufacturers are building them into new cars. Eventually, as the existing fleet retires, all cars left on the road will have a sober sensor built in. Those of us of a certain age remember how this worked with seat belts. To nudge the process along, five states have introduced legislation setting out an implementation schedule.

Congress could use a champion. My friend Andrew Romanoff is running for congress next year in Aurora and Arapahoe County. One of the many reasons I'm supporting him is his enthusiasm for this practical lifesaver.

Manufacturers would also like to avoid massive personal injury claims. Sometime soon an underinsured drunk driver in a brand new car will plow into a family killing the breadwinner and mangling the rest. The survivors will sue, pointing out, when the car was built the technology existed to avoid this tragedy and the manufacturer's competitors were installing it as standard equipment. This car, lacking a sober sensor, was unreasonably dangerous.

The American Beverage Institute might not be so enthusiastic. This is unfortunate. Some guests, sensitive to the benefits of a sober sensor, may chose to enjoy fewer beverages. On the other hand, dead patrons rarely buy another round.