Oct 23, 2019
We know that cars are becoming autonomous. They are growing more intelligent and safer. Now there is a safety leadership push in the U.S. Congress to allow these cars to stop a drunk driver from getting behind the wheel where they could potentially hurt themselves and others.
In a bi-partisan push, two Senators have introduced a new law that would require all new motor vehicles to come equipped with discrete methods of detecting the blood alcohol level of the driver. The goal to implement these safety systems is 2024, by making these features standard in every new vehicle.
The bi-partisan legislation is called the Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act (shortened to the friendlier acronym RIDE), earmarks $10 million to fund research into new sensors created to control a driver's blood-alcohol level to stop an impaired driver from taking the wheel. The RIDE Act also allocates an additional $25 million to monitor the technology in government vehicles.
In 2000, a 16-year-old New Mexico girl was hit by another teenage driver who had been drinking tequila shots before driving and was going twice as fast in a 30 mph zone. The other young driver, who was drunk and high on pot, "lost control of her car and spun off the road onto the bike path" where the 16-year-old, Helen Marie, had been rollerblading.
It's a sad story and one that the victim's mother has been retelling for years to any audience that will listen. Her goal is to educate the public on the dangers of drunk driving. She hopes her story will spare other families the same pain.
Deaths from drunk and impaired driving have decreased significantly since the 1980s. These fatalities still make up about a third of all automotive deaths. Over ten thousand people were killed by drunk drivers in 2017, for example. The government is not sitting idly by, however. The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety is showing safety leadership by spending $50 million to develop a prototype often referred to as the Driver Alcohol Detention System for Safety.
The end goal is to create a system of alcohol detection without the driver having to do anything manually. In the meantime, the federal government is projecting that the breathalyzer method will be available for use in most cars by next year. The device is small and fits into the driver-side door. The driver would blow into the breathalyzer to check for the appearance of alcohol. The federal government ultimately wants a device that will measure the precise blood-alcohol level in the driver but that could be years away. The current problem is that a breathalyzer type device can't distinguish between a person that has had one glass of wine or seven. However, this safety leadership has quite the momentum going to make real, effective changes in keeping unsafe drivers off the road where they can be a real danger to themselves, and others.
As cars become smarter and safer, some members of Congress want to require them to be built to prevent drunk driving.
Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., introduced legislation last week that would make it mandatory for all new cars and trucks to come loaded with passive, virtually unnoticeable, alcohol detection systems by 2024.
The Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act of 2019, called the RIDE Act, would also allocate $10 million to continue government-funded research into new breath and touch-based sensors designed to monitor a driver's blood alcohol level in real-time, without having the driver do anything. The measure would set aside another $25 million to install and test the technology in government-owned fleets.
The bill follows a similar effort in the House by Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan.