Can technology eliminate drunk driving? Congress says ‘it must.”
Congress is getting serious, they’ve issued a tough mandate: “You’ve got five years to develop anti-drunk driving technology and implement it in every new car made.”
Congress is reacting to the need for just such technology, to take a dangerous weapon out of the hands of an impaired driver. The fact is, each day, about 28 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 52 minutes. In 2019, of the 36,096 total reported traffic fatalities, 10,142 were alcohol related — 28% of all traffic fatalities involved a drunk driver.
The states with the highest amount of annual alcohol-related fatalities are also the states among the largest in population. Texas, California, and Florida. According to NHTSA data from 2018, there were 1,677 annual drunk driving fatalities in Texas, 1,241 in California, and 958 in Florida in 2018.
Congress tasks automakers
Congress has created a new requirement for automakers: find a high-tech way to keep drunken people from driving cars. It’s one of the mandates along with a burst of new spending aimed at improving auto safety amid escalating road fatalities in President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package.
The legislation, requiring monitoring systems to stop intoxicated drivers would be included in every new vehicle as early as 2026. The plan is in its infancy, however the Transportation Department currently assessing the best form of technology to install in millions of vehicles and to give automakers ample time to comply.
Currently, about $17 billion is allotted to road safety programs, the largest increase in funding in decades. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday that could mean more protected bike paths and greener spaces built into busy roadways. “It’s monumental,” said Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Otte called the package the “single most important legislation” in the group’s history that marks “the beginning of the end of drunk driving.”
“It will virtually eliminate the No. 1 killer on America’s roads,” she said.
Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported an estimated 20,160 people died in traffic collisions in the first half of 2021, the highest first-half total since 2006. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined that speeding, impaired driving and not wearing seatbelts during the coronavirus pandemic as factors behind the spike.
Each year, around 10,000 people are killed due to alcohol-related crashes in the U.S., making up nearly 30% of all traffic fatalities, according to NHTSA.
Tech puts the brakes on DUI and hopefully, needless deaths
The legislation doesn’t specify the technology, only that it must “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.” Sam Abuelsamid, principal mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insights, said the most likely system to prevent drunken driving is infrared cameras that monitor driver behavior. That technology is already being installed by automakers such as General Motors, BMW and Nissan to track driver attentiveness while using partially automated driver-assist systems.
The cameras make sure a driver is watching the road, and they look for signs of drowsiness, loss of consciousness or impairment. If signs are spotted, the cars will warn the driver, and if the behavior persists, the car would turn on its hazard lights, slow down and pull to the side of the road.
“Prompt action must be taken on comprehensive, commonsense and confirmed solutions to steer our nation toward zero crash fatalities,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Proven solutions are at hand; it’s time to take action.”
A human plea to end drunk driving fatalities
“These aren’t just numbers; these are family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and fellow Americans — and tragically and disproportionately, Black, brown and Native American,” said Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg. “It’s not acceptable the level of deaths that we’re seeing on American highways right now.”
Alex Otte, the National President for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said hazardous and impaired driving has risen over the past 18 months, she said this legislation could save thousands of lives a year.
The legislation does not specify what type of technology could be implemented but there are a few options. Otte said sensors could be placed in your steering wheel or push start button to measure a driver’s blood alcohol content or a camera could be placed inside your dashboard or rearview mirror. That camera would monitor a driver’s attentiveness, monitoring their eyes to see if they’re impaired, drowsy, or distracted.
“Given that we know that 10,000 people every year are dying because of drunk driving, it could essentially eliminate drunk driving,” said Otte.