NTSB wants all new vehicles to check drivers for alcohol consumption

The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that all new vehicles in the United States be equipped with blood alcohol monitoring systems that can prevent a drunk person from driving.

The recommendation, if adopted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, could reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents, a leading cause of highway deaths in the United States.

The new push to make roads safer was included in a report released Tuesday about a terrible accident last year in which a drunk driver collided head-on with another vehicle near Fresno, California, killing both adult and adult drivers. seven children.

NHTSA said this week that road deaths in the United States are at crisis levels. Nearly 43,000 people were killed last year, the highest number in 16 years, when Americans returned to the streets after being ordered to stay home over the pandemic.

Early estimates show that deaths rose again during the first half of this year, but declined from April to June, which authorities hope is a trend.

The NTSB, which has no regulatory authority and can only ask other agencies to take action, said the recommendation is designed to put pressure on the NHTSA to move. It could be effective as early as three years.

The change could reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents, a leading cause of highway death in the United States
AP / Eric Paul Zamora

“We need the NHTSA to act. Let’s see the numbers, “said NTSB president Jennifer Homendy.” We need to make sure we do everything we can to save lives. ”

The NTSB, he said, has been pushing NHTSA to explore alcohol monitoring technology since 2012. “The faster the technology is implemented, the more lives will be saved,” he said.

The recommendation also requires systems to monitor a driver’s behavior, making sure they are alert. He said many cars now have cameras aimed at the driver, which have the potential to limit driving with driving problems.

But Homendy says he also understands that perfecting alcohol tests will take time. “We also know that it will take some time for NHTSA to evaluate what technologies are available and how to develop a standard.”

A message was left on Tuesday seeking a comment from NHTSA.

The agency and a group of 16 car manufacturers have jointly funded research on alcohol monitoring since 2008, forming a group called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.

The group hired a Swedish company to research a technology that can automatically test alcohol in a driver’s breath and prevent a vehicle from moving if the driver is damaged, said Jake McCook, a spokesman for the group. The driver shouldn’t blow into a tube and a sensor will monitor the driver’s breathing, McCook said.

Another company is working on a lightweight technology that can test for blood alcohol in a person’s finger, he said. Breath technology could be ready by the end of 2024, while touch technology will arrive about a year later.

It could take an extra model year or two after automakers have the technology to get it into new vehicles, McCook said.

Once the technology is ready, it will take years before it is present in most of the approximately 280 million vehicles on US roads.

Under last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, Congress required NHTSA to have automakers install alcohol monitoring systems within three years. The agency can ask for an extension. It has been slow in the past to adopt these requirements.

The legislation does not specify the technology, only that it must passively “monitor” a driver to determine if he is harmed.

In 2020, the most recent data available, 11,654 people died in alcohol-related accidents, according to NHTSA data. This is about 30 percent of all traffic deaths in the United States and a 14 percent increase from 2019 figures, 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 returned home from a 2021 New Year’s Eve party in which he had been drinking. The SUV exited the right side of State Route 33, crossed the center line, and head-on hit a Ford F-150 pickup truck near Avenal, California.

The pickup was transporting 34-year-old Gabriela Pulido and seven children aged 6 to 15 home after a trip to Pismo Beach. The truck caught fire quickly and bystanders failed to rescue the passengers, the NTSB said.

The SUV driver’s blood alcohol level was 0.21 percent, nearly three times the California legal limit. She also had marijuana in his body, but the agency said the alcohol was more than enough to severely impair his driving. The SUV traveled 88 to 98 miles per hour (142 to 158 kilometers per hour), the report said.

The crash occurred less than a second after the Journey hit the road, not giving Pulido time to avoid the collision, the NTSB said.

Juan Pulido, 37, whose wife and four children were killed in the accident, said he was happy that the NTSB is 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 doesn’t go away tomorrow.”

Pulido’s attorney, Paul Kiesel, says driver monitoring systems could also stop accidents caused by medical problems or sleepiness, saving heartache and billions in hospital care costs.

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