All new cars should check drivers for alcohol use, feds say

The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that all new cars in the U.S. be equipped with a blood alcohol monitoring system to deter intoxicated driving.

The recommendation, if enacted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, could reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes, one of the largest causes of death on U.S. highways

New efforts to make roads safer were included in a report released Tuesday that said a horrific crash last year saw a drunk driver collide head-on with another vehicle near Fresno, California. , causing death Adult driver and seven children.

“Technology could have prevented this heartbreaking crash — just as it could have prevented the tens of thousands of impaired driving and speeding-related injuries we see in the United States each year,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a statement. death in a car accident.” “We need to immediately implement the technology we have to save lives.”

NHTSA Say The U.S. road death toll is at crisis levels this week. Nearly 43,000 people lost their lives last year, the largest number in 16 years, as Americans returned to the road following the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders. According to the agency, an estimated 20,175 people will die in motor vehicle traffic accidents in the first half of 2022. Since 2000, more than 230,000 people have died in crashes involving drunk driving, the NHTSA said.

Preliminary estimates show the death toll rose again in the first half of the year, but fell from April to June in what authorities hope is a trend.

The NTSB, which has no regulator and can only ask other agencies to take action, said the recommendation was designed to put pressure on NHTSA to do so. It could come into effect in three years at the earliest.

“We’re seeing the numbers. We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to save lives,” Homendi said.

The NTSB has been pushing NHTSA to explore alcohol monitoring technology since 2012, she said. “The faster the technology is implemented, the more lives are saved,” she said.

The recommendation also requires the system to monitor driver behavior to ensure they remain alert. Many cars now have cameras pointed at the driver, which has the potential to limit impaired driving, she said.

Can technology save lives?

Homendy admits it will take time to perfect the alcohol test. “We also know that NHTSA will need time to evaluate what technologies are available and how to develop standards.”

A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from NHTSA. The agency and a group of 16 automakers have been jointly funding alcohol monitoring research since 2008, forming a group called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.

Jack McCook, a spokesman for the group, said the group had hired a Swedish company to work on a technology that could automatically test the alcohol level in a driver’s breath and stop the vehicle if the driver was impaired. drive. The driver doesn’t have to blow air into the tube, McCook said, and the sensor checks the driver’s breath.

Another company is working on light technology that can detect blood alcohol levels in people’s fingers, he said. Breathing technology may be ready by the end of 2024, while touch technology will appear in about a year.

It could be another year or two after automakers get the technology to apply it to new vehicles, McCook said.

Once the technology is ready, it will take years to be used in most of the roughly 280 million cars on U.S. roads.

Under last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, Congress asked NHTSA to give automakers three years to install alcohol monitoring systems. The agency can seek an extension. In the past, such requirements have been slow to develop.

The legislation doesn’t specify the technology, except that it must “passively monitor” drivers to determine if they are impaired.

11,654 alcohol-related deaths

The latest figures for 2020 show 11,654 people have died in alcohol-related crashes, according to NHTSA. That accounts for about 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., a 14 percent increase from the 2019 figure, the last year before the coronavirus pandemic, the NTSB said.

In the fatal crash included in the report, a 28-year-old SUV driver came home from a 2021 New Year’s Day party where he had been drinking. The SUV pulled off the right side of State Route 33, crossed the centerline, and collided head-on with a Ford F-150 pickup near Avenar, California.

The pickup was carrying Gabriela Pulido, 34, and seven children, ages 6 to 15, home after a trip to Pismo Beach. The truck quickly caught fire and bystanders were unable to rescue passengers, the NTSB said.

The SUV driver’s blood alcohol level was 0.21 percent, nearly three times the legal limit in California. He also had marijuana in his system, but the agency said there was enough alcohol to seriously affect his driving. The report says the SUV will travel at 88 to 98 miles per hour (142 to 158 kilometers per hour).

Juan Pulido, 37, whose wife and four children were killed in the crash, said he was glad the NTSB was pushing for alcohol monitoring because it could prevent another person from losing a loved one. “It’s something their families have to endure,” he said. “Tomorrow will not disappear.”

Pulido’s attorney Paul Kiesel said the driver monitoring system could also prevent crashes caused by medical problems or drowsiness, saving pain and billions in hospital treatment.

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