A piece of bipartisan legislation was put forward by two senators to fund research into automatic blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) level monitors, as well as to mandate their installation into all new cars by 2024. Touch and breath sensors would automatically monitor BAC levels and prevent the car from starting if the BAC level is above the legal limit.
The act would allocate $35 million to research automatic BAC-monitoring technology and to test the monitors in government-owned test cars. The US government has previously invested in anti-drunk-driving technology and the present act would follow in the footsteps of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research of approximately $50 million into automatic BAC monitoring technology.
Despite the multi-million dollar investment into research of anti-drunk-driving technology, the existing BAC monitoring technology is still in an embryonic stage. Automobile industry representative Robert Strassburger comments that the devices in development “can only determine the presence of alcohol”, noting that they cannot yet determine precise BAC levels.
According to the NHTSA, drunk driving leads to over 10,000 deaths per year. Though many of these deaths are from incidents in which the drivers had a BAC above the legal limit of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL), the website also emphasizes that in 2017, over 1,800 people died in crashes in which the driver had a BAC below the legal limit between .01 and .07 g/dL. Additionally, the bill cites a figure of $44 million as the estimated economic cost of drunk driving in 2010.
The bill was announced with the support of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the National Safety Council, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The president of MADD, Helen Witty, compared the reluctance of car companies to install anti-drunk-driving technology to their past reluctances against airbags and seatbelts. Witty’s 16-year old daughter was killed in 2000 by a driver under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, and Witty appeared in the official announcement video to endorse the legislation.
“With this legislation, we have the opportunity to help end drunk driving for good”, comments Tom Udall. “We owe it to those we’ve lost – to honor them with action.”