Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP
DETROIT — The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that all new vehicles in the United States be required to have blood alcohol monitoring systems that can prevent an intoxicated person from driving.
The recommendation, if adopted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, could reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes, one of the leading causes of road deaths in the United States.
The new push to make roads safer was included in a report on Tuesday about a horrific accident last year in which a drunk driver collided head-on with another vehicle near Fresno, California, killing both adult drivers and seven children.
The NHTSA said this week that road deaths in the United States were at crisis levels. Nearly 43,000 people were killed last year, the most in 16 years, as Americans returned to the roads after pandemic stay-at-home orders.
Early estimates show deaths rose again in the first half of this year, but fell from April to June, which authorities hope is a trend.
If adopted, the recommendation could enter into force in a few years
The NTSB, which has no regulatory authority and can only ask other agencies to act, said the recommendation is designed to pressure NHTSA to move. It could be effective as early as three years.
“We need NHTSA to act. We see the numbers,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said. “We have to make sure we are doing everything we can to save lives.”
The NTSB, she said, has been pushing NHTSA to explore alcohol monitoring technology since 2012. “The faster the technology is implemented, the more lives will be saved,” she said.
The recommendation also calls for systems to monitor a driver’s behavior, ensuring they are alert. She said many cars now have cameras pointed at the driver, which has the potential to limit impaired driving.
But Homendy says she also understands that perfecting blood alcohol testing will take time. “We also know that it will take time for NHTSA to assess what technologies are available and how to develop a standard.”
A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from NHTSA.
Research on monitoring drinking and driving has been ongoing since 2008
The agency and a group of 16 automakers have jointly funded alcohol monitoring research since 2008, forming a group called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.
The group has hired a Swedish company to research technology that would automatically test a driver’s breath for alcohol and stop a vehicle from moving if the driver is intoxicated, said Jake McCook, gatekeeper. group speech. The driver wouldn’t have to blow into a tube and a sensor would check the driver’s breathing, McCook said.
Another company is working on lightweight technology that could test a person’s finger for blood alcohol, he said. Breathing technology could be ready by the end of 2024, while touch technology would arrive around a year later.
It could take one or two more model years after automakers get the technology to be in new vehicles, McCook said.
Once the technology is ready, it will take years for it to be in most of the roughly 280 million vehicles on US roads.
Congress has asked NHTSA to require automakers to install monitoring systems
Under last year’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act, Congress required NHTSA to require automakers to install alcohol monitoring systems within three years. The agency may request an extension. In the past, it has been slow to enact such requirements.
The legislation does not specify the technology, only that it must “passively monitor” a driver to determine if they are intoxicated.
In 2020, the most recent figures available, 11,654 people died in alcohol-related crashes, according to NHTSA data. That’s about 30% of all road deaths in the United States and a 14% increase from numbers in 2019, the last full year before the coronavirus pandemic, the NTSB said.
In the fatal accident included in the report, a 28-year-old SUV driver was returning home from a 2021 New Year’s Eve party where he had been drinking. The SUV exited the right side of State Route 33, crossed the center line, and collided head-on with a Ford F-150 pickup truck near Avenal, California.
The pickup was carrying Gabriela Pulido, 34, and seven children ages 6 to 15 home after a trip to Pismo Beach. The truck quickly caught fire and bystanders were unable to save the passengers, the NTSB said.
The SUV driver’s blood alcohol level was 0.21%, nearly three times California’s legal limit. He also had marijuana in his system, but the agency said the alcohol was more than enough to severely impair his driving. The SUV was going 88 to 98 miles per hour (142 to 158 kilometers per hour), according to the report.
The accident happened less than a second after the Journey got back on the road, giving Pulido no time to avoid the collision, the NTSB said.
Juan Pulido, 37, whose wife and four children were killed in the crash, said he was glad the NTSB was pushing for alcohol monitoring because it could prevent another person from losing loved ones . “It’s something their families have to live with,” he said. “It’s not leaving tomorrow.”
Pulido attorney Paul Kiesel said driver monitoring systems could also prevent crashes caused by medical conditions or drowsiness, saving angst and billions of dollars in traffic costs. hospital treatment.
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