Technology could end drunk driving, and the US may even mandate it

Two US senators plan to introduce legislation that would equip every new car with technology to block drivers who are over the limit.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
2 min read
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It's an unfortunate reality that plenty of people still operate vehicles while intoxicated, which can lead to disastrous results for the driver and innocent motorists and pedestrians. "Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes," says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite massive public information campaigns to curb drunk driving, the hard fact is there's still nothing stopping a driver from getting behind the wheel after too much to drink.

New technology has something to say about the matter, and two US senators believe it's time the country puts its foot down on drunk driving. In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, and Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, say they plan to introduce bipartisan legislation that would mandate every new car sold to feature technology that keeps drunks from even starting a car.

Technology is in the pipeline that would prevent anyone over the legal blood-alcohol content level from firing up a vehicle and motoring off. According to Reuters, this includes devices planted in the steering wheel or push-button ignition to measure a driver's BAC. If the devices detect it's too high, via infrared lights shined through a driver's fingertip, it's no dice to drive anywhere. Another possible solution are sensors to monitor a driver's eye movement and breath.

NHTSA has invested millions of dollars into these types of technologies, and Sen. Udall said these systems are undergoing small-scale testing in various states. The proposed legislation would call for the technology to be factory-installed in every new car within four years of the bill's passing. If the bill passed in 2020, for example, new cars would need to include the drunk-driving defeat device by 2024 as standard.

Similar legislation exists in the House of Representatives and aims to set rules for BAC detection in cars by 2024. How it would affect used cars or vehicle purchased before the date is unclear.

NHTSA data concluded that drunk driving crashes cost the country nearly $200 billion in 2017. That year, 10,847 people died in crashes that involved intoxicated drivers.

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