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Drunk driving is a massive car safety problem worldwide and takes thousands of lives every year. There are laws that serve as deterrents, but unfortunately, they are not 100% effective. Congress is now looking to automakers to come up with a solution.

Congress wants automakers to create anti drunk driving technology

President Joe Biden signs $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Part of the bill includes a mandate for automakers to implement anti drunk driving technology in new vehicles
President Joe Biden | Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Joe Biden is expected to sign a massive $1 trillion infrastructure spending package, and one of the key components focuses on car safety. According to the Associated Press, the legislation mandates automakers to install monitoring systems to stop intoxicated individuals from driving. The mandate wants the anti drunk driving technology to be in all new vehicles by 2026.

In the meantime, the United States Transportation Department will assess the best form of technology to implement. Afterward, automakers will be given time to comply.

National president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Alex Otte said the mandate is “monumental.” She went on to call it the “single most important legislation” in MADD’s history and that it marks “the beginning of the end of drunk driving.”

“It will virtually eliminate the No. 1 killer on America’s roads,” said Otte.

The number of annual drunk driving deaths is in the tens of thousands

A Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) rally
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) National President Millie Webb | Michael Smith/Newsmakers

In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 20,160 people died in traffic collisions in the first half of 2021. That number is the highest first-half total since 2006.

According to the NHTSA, approximately 10,000 people are killed due to alcohol-related car crashes in the United States. That accounts for nearly 30% of all traffic-related deaths, according to the NHTSA.

What type of technology would help stop impaired driving?

A man using a breathalyzer device
Man using breathalyzer | Michal Fludra/NurPhoto/Getty Images

In some states, convicted drunk drivers must use a breathalyzer device linked to their car’s ignition. If the breathalyzer detects a blood alcohol level that is too high, it will prevent the vehicle from starting.

However, we doubt that is the type of device that automakers will incorporate into new cars. We suspect that most people would not want to blow into a breathalyzer tube every time they want to drive.

Furthermore, the legislation does not specify what type of technology manufacturers must use, only that it must “passively monitor the performance of a driver.” It must also “accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.”

The key phrase in that description is “passively monitor.” That means the driver will not have to actively submit a sample or test their blood alcohol levels. If it is not active, then how will the technology prevent drunk driving?

Self-driving technology may be the answer

An illustration of the Tesla Autopilot semi-autonomous driving feature
Tesla Model S using Autopilot | Tesla Motors

Currently, automakers such as GM, BMW, Tesla use passive monitoring technology for different purposes. In models equipped with driver-assist features like Tesla Autopilot, for example, some sensors detect if a driver is watching the road, has their hands on the wheel, or has fallen unconscious.

If those sensors detect signs that the driver is not paying attention or incapacitated, it will first attempt to warn the driver. If that is unsuccessful, the car will automatically slow down and pull over.

The same technology could be slightly tweaked to look for signs of intoxication instead. Assuming that the mandate is not contested, it could be effective in preventing drunk driving deaths.


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