NTSB Recommends Requiring Tech to Prevent Drunk Driving

"Alcohol impairment detection systems" would join seatbelts, airbags, and backup cameras as standard safety equipment, per the recommendation by the federal agency.

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This week a federal agency gave the clearest indication yet that technology designed to prevent drunk driving could one day become standard safety equipment in new cars.

As part of an official report it issued on a New Year’s Day 2021 deadly drunk driving crash that killed nine people, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made a recommendation that would require all new vehicles to have “passive vehicle-integrated alcohol impairment detection systems…that would be capable of preventing or limiting vehicle operation if it detects driver impairment by alcohol.”

An average of 32 people are killed in alcohol-related crashes every day, according to data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That adds up to more than 11,000 people every year. And that figure rose by about 5 percent in 2021, according to NHTSA.

“And that is unacceptable by something that is 100% preventable,” said Alex Otte, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). “It is not an accident. It is not a mistake. It is a choice. And people are continuing to make the choice to take the lives of other people into their hands. So, when we know that there are tools to prevent us and to prevent people from being killed or injured by the actions of another we are so supportive.”

Advocating against impaired driving has become a lifelong passion for Otte, who lost her right leg at the age of 13 when a drunk boater ran her over.

“My response to people that are like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to pay for [more technology in my car].’ Okay, well I don’t want to pay for prosthetics, either. That wasn’t my choice, so let’s make sure that people can’t continue to do this to people.”

The NTSB recommendation is only one step of a process that could eventually lead to a technology requirement. The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed last year included funding for the Department of Transportation to test the technology, and a three-year deadline to create a mandate.

Other ubiquitous pieces of standard safety equipment include seatbelts, which have been required for new vehicles since 1968, airbags, which were required as of 1998, and backup cameras, which became standard in 2018.

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