Congress May Require 'Drunk-Proof' Cars

Bill would increase funding for research

It's been talked about for years. Congress could make it a law. You would not be able to start your car if you've consumed too much alcohol.

Two members of the U.S. Senate, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, have taken a step, sponsoring the ROADS SAFE Act, which would authorize $12 million a year for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop technology that would prevent an intoxicated person from driving a vehicle.

The objective, of course, is to prevent drunk drivers from getting on the road and causing fatal accidents. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Bob Corker (R-TN) co-sponsored the legislation, expressing hope their bi-partisan approach will help secure passage.

Rising death toll

 In 2008 alone, drunk driving killed 11,773 people nationwide, including 143 in New Mexico and 327 in Tennessee. It is estimated that 8,000 lives could be saved each year if all vehicles were equipped with advanced alcohol detection technology.

 "While New Mexico has been a leader in reducing the number of drunk drivers on the road, drunk driving continues to be a primary cause of fatal crashes in New Mexico and nationwide - and even one death caused by a drunk driver is unacceptable," Udall said. "This legislation will help keep Americans safe on the road by spurring the development of new technologies to prevent - and virtually eliminate - drunk driving crashes in the future."

 "Drunk driving destroys thousands of lives every year in America. The ROADS SAFE Act will invest in new technology research that could help put an end to these preventable deaths and improve highway safety," Corker said.

 Lots of support

The two lawmakers appear to have plenty of support from key interest groups. As you might expect, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is enthusiastically behind the legislature. So is the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

"We commend the leadership of Senators Udall and Corker in proposing this life-saving legislation, said association president and CEO Dave McCurdy. “Through the groundbreaking partnership between NHTSA and leading auto makers, substantial progress is being made on the technology front. The additional resources that the senators propose will assure continued advancements in technology as well as funding to assess the public acceptance and other significant matters that are key elements of this activity.”


Not everyone is enthusiastic, however. The American Beverage Institute said it is concerned anti-alcohol devices in cars won't be able to distinguish someone who had a glass of wine with dinner from someone over the legal limit.

There is an existing technology that requires a driver to blow into a tube before a vehicle will start. Currently, it's not mass produced and is installed only by court order for repeat DWI offenders.

As usual, California is out in front on the issue. The state legislature is reportedly considering a similar bill to fund research.

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