Congress Imposes New Auto Technology To Stop Drunk Driving – 102.3 KRMG

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WASHINGTON – (AP) – Congress has created a new requirement for automakers to find a high-tech way to prevent drunk people from driving cars.

It is one of the mandates with a wave of new spending aimed at improving auto safety amid the increase in the number of road fatalities in the $ 1 trillion infrastructure package that President Joe Biden is expected to sign soon.

Under the legislation, monitoring systems to stop impaired drivers would be deployed in all new vehicles as early as 2026, after the Department of Transportation assessed the best form of technology to install in millions of vehicles and that car manufacturers have had time to comply.

In total, about $ 17 billion is allocated to road safety programs, the biggest increase in that funding in decades, according to the Eno Center for Transportation. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg says that could mean more protected cycle paths and greener spaces integrated with busy roads.

“It’s monumental,” said Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Otte called the package “the most important legislation” in the history of the group which marks “the beginning of the end of impaired driving”.

“This will virtually eliminate the No. 1 killer on American roads,” she said.

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that about 20,160 people died in traffic crashes during the first half of 2021, the highest total in the first half since 2006. The agency highlighted the speeding, impaired driving and not wearing a seat belt during the coronavirus. pandemic as factors causing the peak.

Every year, around 10,000 people are killed due to alcohol-related crashes in the United States, accounting for nearly 30% of all road deaths, according to NHTSA.

Currently, some convicted intoxicated drivers are required to use breathalysers connected to an ignition interlock device, blow into a tube and deactivate the vehicle if their blood alcohol level is too high. The legislation does not specify the technology, only that it must “passively monitor the performance of a motor vehicle operator to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.” “

Sam Abuelsamid, senior mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insights, said the system most likely to prevent drunk driving is infrared cameras that monitor driver behavior. This technology is already installed by automakers such as General Motors, BMW and Nissan to track driver attention while using partially automated driver assistance systems.

Cameras make sure a driver is watching the road and looking for signs of drowsiness, loss of consciousness or impairment.

If signs are spotted, cars will warn the driver, and if the behavior persists, the car will turn on its hazard lights, slow down and pull to the side of the road.

Abuelsamid said breathalyzers are not a practical solution, as many people would object to being forced to blow into a tube every time they get in the car. “I don’t think it’s going to go very well with a lot of people,” he said.

The bulky bill also requires automakers to install rear seat reminders to alert parents if a child is inadvertently left in the back seat, a mandate that could begin by 2025 after the NHTSA completes its service. development of rules on the matter. Since 1990, around 1,000 children have died from automobile heatstroke after the highest total in a single year was 54 in 2018, according to Kidsandcars.org.

Congress, meanwhile, ordered the agency to update decades-old safety standards to prevent fatalities from collapsing front seatbacks and to issue a rule requiring braking. Automatic emergency and lane departure warnings in all passenger vehicles, although no date has been set for compliance.

Most automakers had already agreed to make automatic emergency braking standard equipment in most of their models by September next year, as part of a voluntary plan announced towards the end of the Obama administration.

Buttigieg, promoting the benefits of the legislation on Monday at a White House briefing, said he had traveled the country in recent months and seen too many roadside memorials for people who died in crashes avoidable road.

He highlighted a new $ 5 billion “Safe Streets and Roads for All” program under his ministry that will, in part, promote healthier streets for cyclists and pedestrians. The federal program, which he acknowledged could take several months to put in place, would support city campaigns to end traffic crashes with a “Vision Zero” effort that could build roundabouts to end traffic accidents. slow down cars, dig new bike lanes and widen sidewalks and even cut some roads to move commuters to public transit or other modes of transportation.

Legislation requires that at least 15% of a state’s road safety improvement program funds go to pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorized road users if these groups make up 15% or more of the traffic. state fatalities.

“The best way to enable people to move around in a better way for congestion and the climate is to give them alternatives,” Buttigieg said. Describing much of this as a longer term effort, he said, “This is how we are doing the right thing with the next generation.”

Yet safety advocates fear the bipartisan bill may have missed opportunities to tackle a new US road fatality crisis more forcefully and have urged the Department of Transportation to come up with immediate solutions. .

They brought in a sometimes slow NHTSA to tackle a problem backlog of road safety rules ordered by Congress nearly a decade ago, as mandatory rear seat belt reminders.

“Swift action must be taken to find comprehensive, sensible and proven solutions to steer our country towards zero fatalities,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Proven solutions are at hand; It’s time to act.

The department said on Tuesday it would release a “safe systems approach” to road safety in January that identifies safety measures for drivers, roads, vehicles, speeds and medical care after an accident, stressing the need to act deliberately to ensure “lasting” improvements.

“It’s not just numbers; it’s family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and fellow Americans – and tragically and disproportionately, blacks, browns and Native Americans, ”said Assistant Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg. “It is not acceptable the level of fatalities that we are seeing on American highways right now.”

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Krisher reported from Detroit.


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