Congress has imposed a new duty on automakers: develop a high-tech method to prevent intoxicated drivers from operating vehicles.
It’s one of the stipulations in the $1 trillion infrastructure plan that President Joe Biden is set to sign soon, along with a slew of extra expenditure focused at increasing car safety amid rising road deaths.
After the Transportation Department evaluates the optimum kind of technology to place in millions of vehicles and automakers are given time to comply, monitoring systems to stop inebriated drivers will roll out in all new vehicles as early as 2026, according to the law.
According to the Eno Center for Transportation, roughly $17 billion will be allocated to road safety projects, the largest increase in such financing in decades. That might mean more protected bike pathways and greener places incorporated into busy highways, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“It’s historic,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving national president Alex Otte remarked. The bill is the “single most significant legislation” in the organization’s history, according to Otte, and it represents “the beginning of the end of drunk driving.”
“It will almost remove America’s number one murderer on the highways,” she predicted.
The National Highway Car Safety Administration stated this month that 20,160 people were killed in traffic crashes in the first half of 2021, the highest number since 2006. During the coronavirus epidemic, the CDC blamed speeding, drunk driving, and not wearing seatbelts for the increase.
According to the National Highway Road Safety Administration, around 10,000 people are killed in alcohol-related collisions in the United States each year, accounting for nearly 30% of all traffic deaths.
Currently, certain convicted drunk drivers are required to utilize breathalyzer equipment connected to ignition interlock devices, which require them to blow into a tube and disable the car if their blood alcohol level is too high. The law says that the technology must “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to properly detect if the driver may be intoxicated.”
Infrared cameras that monitor driver behavior, according to Sam Abuelsamid, chief mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insights, are the most likely approach to prevent drunken driving. Automakers such as General Motors, BMW, and Nissan are already employing this technology to assess driver attention while using partially automated driver-assist systems.
The cameras check for indicators of tiredness, loss of consciousness, or impairment, as well as ensuring that a motorist is paying attention to the road.
If signs are detected, the vehicles will issue a warning to the driver, and if the conduct continues, the car will activate its hazard lights, slow down, and pull over to the side of the road.
Breathalyzers, according to Abuelsamid, aren’t a viable answer since many individuals would object to being compelled to blow into a tube every time they got into a car. He said, “I don’t believe it’ll go down well with a lot of folks.”
The lengthy law also mandates that automakers install rear-seat reminders to notify parents if a kid is left mistakenly in the back seat, a requirement that may be implemented by 2025 once the NHTSA completes its regulation on the subject. According to Kidsandcars.org, around 1,000 children have died from vehicle heatstroke since 1990, with the greatest number in a single year being 54 in 2018.
Meanwhile, Congress has urged the EPA to revise decades-old safety rules to prevent deaths caused by collapsing front seatbacks, as well as to release a regulation requiring automated emergency braking and lane departure alerts in all passenger vehicles, but no deadline has been set.
As part of a voluntary plan unveiled in the waning weeks of the Obama administration, most manufacturers had already promised to make automated emergency braking standard equipment in most of their vehicles by September of next year.
At a White House briefing, Buttigieg touted the bill’s advantages, saying he had traversed the country in recent months and seen “too many wayside shrines” for those killed in needless car accidents.
He mentioned his department’s new $5 billion “Safe Roadways & Roads for All” program, which would promote safer streets for bikers and pedestrians. The federal program, which he acknowledged could take several months to set up, would support cities’ efforts to reduce traffic fatalities through a “Vision Zero” initiative that could include traffic roundabouts to slow cars, new bike paths and sidewalks, and even road closures to encourage commuters to use public transportation or other modes of transportation.
If walkers, bicyclists, and other nonmotorized road users account for 15% or more of a state’s collision deaths, the act mandates that at least 15% of a state’s highway safety enhancement program funding be allocated to them.
“Giving people choices is the greatest way to allow them to travel in ways that are better for congestion and better for the environment,” Buttigieg added. “This is how we do right by the next generation,” he added, describing much of it as a long-term commitment.
Nonetheless, safety advocates are concerned that the bipartisan bill missed opportunities to confront a growing U.S. problem of road fatalities more forcefully, and they have encouraged the Transportation Department to act on fast fixes.
They’ve asked the NHTSA to handle a backlog of traffic safety requirements that Congress mandated over a decade ago, such as required rear seat belt reminders. The Department of Transportation has announced that in January it will unveil a “safe system approach” to road safety that will identify safety actions for drivers, roads, cars, speeds, and post-crash medical treatment.
“Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase stated, “Prompt action on comprehensive, sensible, and confirmed solutions must be implemented to drive our nation toward zero collision deaths.” “Proven remedies are available; now is the time to act.”