PHOENIX - On Nov. 16, 2021, President Joe Biden signed his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, and the bill includes a provision that requires automakers to install anti-drunk driving systems in all new cars.
"We know, in terms of lives saved, this is the most significant legislation passed in MADD's 41-year history," said Alex Otte, National President for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Otte says numbers are currently trending in the wrong direction. Every year, there are 10,000 drunk driving deaths and 300,000 injuries. She says the infrastructure bill could change that.
"The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates once this technology is in all new cars, it will save an estimated 9,400 lives every year, essentially eliminating drunk driving," said Otte.
Anti-drunk driving system could take various forms
It is not clear what the anti-drunk driving system will look like, as the technology has not been decided yet, but the bill states it needs to be able to passively monitor the performance of a driver to identify whether they are impaired, while also detecting blood alcohol concentration. Some ideas for this include a driver monitoring system that would allow for cameras on the dashboard.
The cameras would monitor eye gaze to check for impairments. Another option is sensors that would determine how much alcohol is in a person's sweat.
"The drunk or otherwise impaired driver will get in their car, and it either won't start or won't move, while the sober driver won't even know it is there," said Otte.
This new technology would be different than the interlock system, where a driver has to blow into a breathalyzer in order to start the car. The interlock technology has come a long way to prevent drunk driving, according to Smart Start Ignition State Director Frank Bobedeilla.
"From just being a handheld unit that we would blow into it and vehicle to start, [to] where we have GPS technology, we have real-time reporting, cameras. All of that has changed in the last 10 years," said Bobadeilla.
It is still too early to tell how this would change the way interlock businesses do their work and provide for their customers.
"We don't know," said Otte. "It is so vague we don't know how it is going to affect."
Officials with MADD say they are not advocating for a certain type of technology to be chosen. They just want to make sure everyone can make it home safe.
"We are truly going to see a day when there are no more victims of drunk driving," said Otte.
Opposition remains to mandate
Not everyone is on board with the idea of requiring an anti-driving system. Trade groups, like the American Beverage Institute, have previously come out against any sort of sensor technology, as they believe it to be an overreach.
In addition, it also remains to be seen whether consumers will be interested in buying vehicles equipped with such technologies.
Nevertheless, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration will have three years to decide what technology will be mandated to automakers.
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