Bill would require alcohol detectors in new cars

New federal legislation introduced this week would require all new cars to be equipped with “advanced alcohol detection technology” that would be able detect whether a driver is drunk.

The Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act of 2019 is a bipartisan measure introduced by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, and Rick Scott, R-Florida, and has the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a national nonprofit organization working to end drunk and drugged driving.

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The RIDE Act will promote the research and development of such technology and will require the implementation of that technology in new vehicles.

According to a summary of the legislation provided on Udall’s website, technology could potentially include devices that would determine a driver’s blood alcohol level by touching the steering wheel or engine start button, or sensors that monitor a driver’s breath or eye movement.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration invested more than $50 million throughout 10 years in this technology, which is undergoing limited field testing in Maryland and Virginia.

In a news release, MADD said the technology would have the potential to eliminate drunk driving in America.

“According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, if all vehicles were equipped with advanced alcohol detection technology, an estimated 7,000 lives could be saved every year,” the release states.

According to statistics provided on the MADD website, Hawaii had 34 drunk driving deaths in 2016.

Since enacting an ignition interlock law for all first-time convicted drunk drivers in 2011, MADD said drunk driving deaths in Hawaii have decreased by 23%.

As of Oct. 15, the Hawaii Police Department has arrested 875 people for driving under the influence of an intoxicant.

From Oct. 7-13, 19 motorists were arrested for driving under the influence. Three of those drivers were involved in accidents and one driver was younger than 21, according to the Police Department.

“At MADD Hawaii, which is celebrating our 35th year, we are just as excited about this as anyone else interested in traffic safety,” said Arkie Koehl, a volunteer who serves on the organization’s board of directors and is chairman of the board’s public policy committee, about the proposed legislation. “We’ve watched as Hawaii has continued to be one of the worst five states in the nation in drunk driving as measured by percentage of fatal highway crashes involving alcohol.”

While the ignition interlock technology is an “active detection device” because it requires a driver to blow into a device before starting a vehicle, “the holy grail is a passive device” that can determine by someone simply touching the steering wheel or ignition whether they had alcohol.

“That’s the holy grail because you don’t have to have anything fancy installed in your car,” Koehl said.

“The technology is there within reach,” he added, but this is the first legislation to propose deploying that technology.

According to the MADD news release, advanced alcohol detection has been a key component of the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving since the organization launched the campaign in 2006.

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U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, introduced similar legislation, the HALT Drunk Driving Act, in the House of Representatives.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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