New technology aims to reduce drunk driving incidents
BATON ROUGE - The bipartisan infrastructure package passed by Congress and due to be signed into law includes requirements for automakers to curb impaired driving.
In 2019, Louisiana reported 220 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, accounting for 30% of all driving deaths statewide.
Nationwide, traffic fatalities, including those that are alcohol-related, increased in 2020.
The bill, crafted with the help of Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, includes a mandate requiring "advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology must be standard equipment in all new passenger motor vehicles."
A sober driving advocate said available equipment tackles the problem in several ways.
"There are thee different categories of technology: driving performance monitoring, driver monitoring, and alcohol detection," said Alex Otte, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Some of those technologies are already in many cars but used for other purposes, including lane assist. Others include cameras inside vehicles to monitor a driver's head and eyes and sensors to determine blood-alcohol levels.
It's unclear now which technologies will eventually be mandated. Already, 241 different options have been submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for review. Otte says all are either already in cars, under development, or patented.
"The drunk or otherwise impaired driver will get in their car, and it either won't start, won't move or will pull itself over when it detects impairment, depending on which technology is chosen," Otte said.
MADD, which has led the push for this provision since 2019, says the technology likely won't be that noticeable to sober drivers.
"It is not an ignition interlock," Otte said. "It is not a breathalyzer. Those are punitive measures for DUI offenders."
The bill allows NHTSA three years to study and narrow down which technologies will be utilized in new vehicles. After that, all automakers will have to implement the impaired driving prevention measures within two to three years. MADD expects these newly-equipped cars to begin hitting roads as early as 2026.
MADD cautions, this will not just be an alert or warning inside the car that an impaired driver can ignore.
"The car has to be able to tell whether or not the driver is impaired," Otte said. "It has to be able to act and not allow the driver to have operation if the driver is impaired."
Between 2009 and 2019, 2,569 people were killed in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver in Louisiana, according to the NHTSA.
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