WASHINGTON (AP). Congress has put forward a new demand for automakers: find a high-tech way to keep drunk people from driving.
This is one of the mandates along with a spike in new spending to improve vehicle safety amid rising road fatalities in the $ 1 trillion infrastructure package expected to be signed soon by President Joe Biden.
According to the legislation, monitoring systems for stopping drunk drivers will be deployed in all new vehicles as early as 2026, after the Department of Transportation assesses the best form of technology to install on millions of vehicles and has time for automakers to comply.
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Overall, the Eno Transportation Center estimates that about $ 17 billion has been allocated to road safety programs, the largest increase in such funding in decades. Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg said on Monday that this could mean more protected cycle paths and greener areas embedded in busy roads.
“It’s monumental,” said Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Otte called the package “the most important piece of legislation” in the group’s history, marking “the beginning of the end for drunk driving.”
“This will virtually eliminate the # 1 killer on America’s roads,” she said.
Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in the first half of 2021, about 20,160 people were killed in road accidents, the highest in the first half since 2006. The agency pointed to speeding, violation of driving and lack of seat belts during the coronavirus. pandemic as growth factors.
According to NHTSA, about 10,000 people die each year from alcohol-related accidents in the United States, accounting for nearly 30% of all road traffic deaths.
Currently, some convicted drunk drivers must use breathalyzers attached to the ignition switch, blow into the tube and disable the vehicle if their blood alcohol level is too high. The legislation does not define the technology, only that it should “passively monitor the work of the vehicle driver in order to determine exactly whether this driver can be disabled.”
Sam Abuelsamid, chief mobility analyst at Guidehouse Insights, said the most likely drunk driving prevention system is infrared cameras, which track driver behavior. The technology is already being installed by automakers such as General Motors, BMW and Nissan to track driver alertness when using partially automated driver assistance systems.
Cameras monitor the driver’s presence on the road and detect signs of drowsiness, loss of consciousness or impairment.
If the signs are found, the cars will alert the driver, and if the behavior persists, the car will turn on hazard lights, slow down and pull to the side of the road.
Abuelsamid said breathalyzers are not a practical solution because many people will object to being forced to blow into a pipe every time they get into a car. “I don’t think a lot of people will like this,” he said.
The voluminous law also requires automakers to set rear-seat reminders to alert parents if a child accidentally stays in the backseat – a requirement that could begin by 2025 after NHTSA finalizes regulations on the matter. About 1,000 children have died from car heatstroke since 1990, according to Kidsandcars.org, up from 54 in 2018.
Meanwhile, Congress instructed the agency to update outdated safety standards to prevent death from collapsing front seat backs, and to issue a rule requiring automatic emergency braking and lane departure warnings for all passenger vehicles, although no date has been set for compliance.
Most automakers have already agreed to make automatic emergency braking standard on most of their models by September next year, as part of a voluntary plan announced in the final weeks of Obama’s administration.
Buttigieg, promoting the benefits of the law at a White House briefing, said he has traveled the country in recent months and has seen too many roadside memorials to people who died in preventable road accidents.
He pointed to a new $ 5 billion program, “Safe Streets and Roads for All,” being implemented by his department, which will contribute in part to healthier streets for cyclists and pedestrians. The federal program, which he acknowledged could take months to complete, will support cities’ campaigns to end road accidents with a Vision Zero initiative that could build roundabouts to slow cars, create new cycle paths and widen sidewalks. and even reduce the number of roads to move passengers to public transport or other forms of transport.
Legislation requires at least 15% of the government’s road safety program funds for pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorized road users if these groups account for 15% or more of state road traffic deaths.
“The best way to enable people to get around better in terms of congestion and in terms of climate is to provide them with an alternative,” Buttigieg said. Describing much of this as a long-term effort, he said, “This is how we do the right thing for the next generation.”
Nonetheless, security advocates are concerned that the bipartisan bill missed an opportunity to respond more decisively to the emerging US fatal road crisis, and they are calling on the Department of Transportation to make immediate decisions.
They called on the sometimes slow-acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to bridge the gap in compliance with road safety regulations mandated by Congress nearly a decade ago, such as mandatory seat belt reminders in the rear seats. The department recently said it would release a “Safe Systems Approach” to road safety in January that defines safety measures for drivers, roads, vehicles, speed, and post-crash medical assistance.
“Immediate action must be taken with comprehensive, robust and validated solutions to move our country towards zero road traffic deaths,” said Katie Chase, President of Highway and Auto Safety Defenders. “Proven solutions at hand; it’s time to act. “
Krisher reported from Detroit.