WASHINGTON D.C.: The U.S. Congress has announced a new mandate requiring automakers to find an electronic solution to stop drunk drivers from operating automobiles.
The mandate is part of a US$1 trillion infrastructure package expected to be approved by President Joe Biden, which is aimed at improving auto safety, in light of rising fatalities on U.S. roads.
Under the legislation, the Transportation Department will decide on the best monitoring system for stopping intoxicated drivers, which will be adopted in all new vehicles by 2026, giving automakers time to comply.
According to the Eno Center for Transportation, the package will see some $17 billion allotted to road safety programs, the largest related funding increase in decades.
“It is monumental” and “the beginning of the end of drunk driving,” said Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as quoted by the Associated Press.
In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported an estimated 20,160 people died in traffic collisions in the first half of 2021, the highest six month total since 2006.
Alcohol-related crashes in the U.S. cause 10,000 fatalities each year, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all traffic deaths, it added.
Sam Abuelsamid, principal mobility analyst at Guidehouse Insights, said the system most likely to be adopted to prevent drunk driving will utilize infrared cameras that will monitor the behavior of drivers, a technology already being installed by some automakers, including by General Motors, BMW and Nissan.
Breathalyzers are not a practical solution because many people would object undergoing the procedure each time they get into their car, he added.
The bill will also require automakers to install rear-seat reminders to alert parents if a child has been left in the back seat.
However, safety advocates claim the bipartisan bill missed opportunities to more forcibly address an emerging U.S. crisis of road fatalities and urged the Transportation Department to do more.
Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said, “Prompt action must be taken on comprehensive, commonsense and confirmed solutions to steer our nation toward zero crash fatalities,” reported the Associated Press.