WASHINGTON – Congress has created a new requirement for automakers: Find a high-tech way to stop drunk people from driving cars.
It follows a burst of new spending aimed at improving auto safety amid a surge in road deaths in a $1 trillion infrastructure package President Joe Biden is expected to sign soon.
The surveillance system to deter drunk drivers, under the law, will be implemented in early 2026, after the Department of Transportation assessed the best form of technology to be installed in millions of vehicles and given automakers time to comply. Will start in new vehicles.
In total, about $17 billion is allocated to road safety programs, according to the Eno Center for Transportation, the largest increase in such funding in decades. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Monday that this could mean more protected bike paths and greener spaces built into busy roadways.
“It’s monumental,” said Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Otte called the package “the single most important law” in the group’s history that marked the “beginning of the end of drunk driving”.
“This will virtually eliminate the No. 1 killer on America’s streets,” she said.
Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported an estimated 20,160 deaths in traffic collisions in the first half of 2006, the highest since 2006. The agency has pointed to speeding, poor driving and not wearing seatbelts during the coronavirus outbreak. Pandemic as the factor behind the spike.
According to the NHTSA, each year, approximately 10,000 people die in America due to alcohol-related accidents, which accounts for about 30% of all traffic accidents.
Currently, some convicted drunk drivers must use breath analyzer devices attached to the ignition interlock, blow into a tube and disable the vehicle if their blood alcohol level is too high. The law does not specify the technique, only that “the driver’s performance of a motor vehicle must be passively monitored to correctly identify that that driver may be malfunctioning.”
Sam Abuelsamid, Principal Mobility Analyst at Guidehouse Insights, said the most likely system to prevent drunk driving are infrared cameras that monitor driver behavior. This technology is already being installed by automakers such as General Motors, BMW and Nissan to track driver attentiveness using partially automated driver-assistance systems.
The cameras make sure the driver is keeping an eye on the road, and they look for signs of drowsiness, loss of consciousness or loss of consciousness.
If signs are observed, the car will warn the driver, and if the behavior continues, the car will turn on its hazard light, slow down and pull to the side of the road.
Abuelsamid said respirators are not a practical solution because many people would object to being forced to blow in a tube every time they got into the car. “I don’t think it’s going very well with a lot of people,” he said.
The voluntary 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 will be followed by the NHTSA by 2025 as its own rule on the issue. Can start after completion. According to Kidsandcars.org, since 1990, nearly 1,000 children have died from vehicular heatstroke, with the highest total in 2018 being 54 in a single year.
Meanwhile, Congress directed the agency to update decades-old safety standards to prevent deaths from falling front seatbacks and issue a rule requiring automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning in all passenger vehicles. However, no date was fixed 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 in the final weeks of the Obama administration.
Buttigieg, who promoted the benefits of the law at a White House briefing, said he has traveled the country in recent months and seen a lot of roadside memorials to those who died in preventable traffic deaths.
He pointed to a new $5 billion “Safe Roads and Streets for All” program under his department that would promote healthier roads for cyclists and pedestrians. The federal program, which he acknowledged could take several months to establish, would support cities’ campaigns to end traffic fatalities with a “Vision Zero” effort that uses traffic roundabouts to slow cars. may build new bike paths and widen sidewalks and even reduce some roads to transfer commuters to public transport or other modes of transport.
Addressing pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorized road users, the law requires at least 15% of the state’s Highway Safety Improvement Program funding if those groups account for 15% or more of the state’s accident fatalities. make.
“The best way to allow people to move better for overcrowding and better for the climate is to give them choices,” Buttigieg said. Describing much of it as a long-term effort, he said, “that’s how we do it right by the next generation.”
Still, safety advocates worry that the bipartisan bill misses out on opportunities to more firmly address the emerging American crisis of road accidents and urged the Department of Transportation to provide an immediate solution.
He has called on the sometimes-slow-moving NHTSA to address the backlog of traffic safety rules ordered by Congress nearly a decade ago, such as mandatory rear seat belt reminders. The department recently said it would release a “Safe Systems Approach” to road safety in January that identifies safety actions for drivers, roads, vehicles, speed and post-accident medical care.
“Comprehensive, common-sense and confirmed solutions must be acted upon quickly to move our country toward zero accident fatalities,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Proven solutions are at hand; It’s time to take action.”
Krischer reported from Detroit.