Senators offer plan to stop drunk driving using in-car technology

Senators Tom Udall, a Democrat, and Rick Scott, a Republican are slated to introduce legislation requiring automakers to install devices that will detect blood alcohol levels and disable vehicles from starting. The authors of the bill are looking to mandate a four-year countdown from passage to full implementation on all new vehicles sold in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and automakers have been researching the needed technology for the past decade.

In 2017 alone there were nearly 11,000 deaths on the nations roads directly attributed to driver intoxication. This came at a cost to society of roughly $200 billion according to NHTSA data. These numbers make the bill have an urgency about it getting on the books quickly. The senators are seeking to establish a pilot program involving the introduction of the technology, to be monitored by federal agencies.

Automakers are looking at devices that can determine a driver’s blood-alcohol level after the driver touches the steering wheel or engine start button via infrared light directed at the driver’s finger. There is currently technology under development involving sensors that passively monitor a driver’s breath or eye movements. So far $50 million dollars has been invested over the past decade on the technology.

Systems could be adjusted to reflect legal blood alcohol levels or brought right down to zero in the case of underage drivers not of drinking age. The hope in the long run is for systems to be in place to cover more than intoxicated driving. Systems could detect distracted driving involving cell phone use and cause the vehicle to slow or pull over. Automakers are rarely excited about new mandates for their vehicles; however, the initial reactions have been positive.

A similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by democrat Debbie Dingell that would require advanced vehicle alcohol detection devices by 2024.

The senators are looking forward to the federal government working with automobile manufacturers, suppliers, universities, and others to ensure those vehicles are available for sale at the earliest practical date. The text of the bill can be found here. 

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