The proposed federal standard would require cars to “prevent or restrict the operation” of impaired drivers


On Sunday, a bipartisan group of senators released a draft of the text a huge new two-way infrastructure bill, proposes more than a trillion dollars in spending and a wide range of far-reaching regulations. But the little-pointed part of the bill could have significant implications for combating drunk driving, ultimately obliging new car safety technology to actively prevent Americans from driving impaired.

Presented under the title “Advanced Impaired Driving Technology” the provision would require the Department of Transportation to set a new standard for detecting and preventing impaired driving. The bill calls on the Minister of Transport to publish the standard within three years, and the requirement will take effect for new cars three years after that. The specific provisions of the standard are vague, but would require cars to “passively monitor the performance of the motor vehicle driver to accurately identify whether the driver is impaired” and “prevent or restrict motor vehicle operation” if a malfunction is detected. .

The specific means of creating the system are still undefined, but proponents say much of the technology is already available. Some models already offer driver monitoring systems that monitor the driver’s face or eyelids to ensure they are awake and actively steering the vehicle. Lexus, BMWand Mercedes Benz. Systems such as lane detection could also be used to detect deterioration, creating an alarm if the driver constantly turns out of his lane.

“Twenty years ago, this technology didn’t exist,” says Jason Levine of the Auto Safety Center. “[But] technology is now available. We can install technology in vehicles to help track if someone is impaired and prevent them from harming themselves or others. “

Most importantly, the new standard is not limited to drunk drivers. Because the systems measure impairment directly, they would be just as effective at detecting prescription medication, emotional anxiety, or simple disorder impairment. In the longer term, efforts would also be made to oblige passive alcohol monitoring systems Volvo is currently developing.

Although the provisions seek to create a new mandatory requirement for car manufacturers, such a requirement is still a long way off. Negotiations around the infrastructure bill are still ongoing and legislators can still delete or amend the provision. Even if it comes into law, the Department of Transportation has a wide margin of maneuver in enforcing the requirement and because it can easily postpone it after the timetable set by Congress.

Yet proponents of car safety see this as a rare opportunity to combat impaired driving, which, according to some estimates, causes up to 10,000 deaths a year. “This will take some time, but you have to start with something,” says Cathy Chase, a spokeswoman for highway and car safety. “Seat belts, airbags, electronic stability control: all these technologies started with this kind of rule-making.”

However, new measures could face significant political setbacks. Previous safety measures were essentially additional features that protect users in the event of an accident. But a weakened driving sensor would directly limit the functionality of the vehicle and prevent users from driving the moment they would otherwise decide to drive.

But for car safety advocates, the increase in the number of deaths caused by impaired driving is simply too urgent to ignore. “I think [the political fight] is a very real concern, ”Chase says,“ but we also have these victims whose family members were taken from them because someone was behind the wheel because of their injury. “

For car safety advocates like Levine, it’s a proposal worth fighting for. “Will there be people who don’t like this feature? Sure,” he says. “For generations, we have the opportunity to stop adding drunk driver lists to these monuments and do so in a way that uses current technology and strives for post-performance behavior.”

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