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Car makers will be required to install software to detect impaired drivers

Tia Jones, mother of deceased marine First Lieutenant Justice Regine Stewart says the...
Tia Jones, mother of deceased marine First Lieutenant Justice Regine Stewart says the requirement can’t come soon enough.(WIS)
Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 8:40 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill includes a section for “Advanced Impaired Driving Technology” that will require car manufacturers to add standard safety technology to all new cars to identify impaired drivers.

“We’re talking about virtually ending impaired driving, which is, of course, what we’ve always been working towards,” said Steven Burritt, the Regional Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving for SC and NC.

MADD advocated for the mandate to be included in the infrastructure bill.

Tia Jones, mother of deceased marine First Lieutenant Justice Regine Stewart says the requirement can’t come soon enough.

“This was much needed. I just feel that the new technology mandates are going to make our roads safer for the future of our family, our children, and so it’s definitely something that I’m glad that is being put in place,” said Jones. “You think about how many lives could be saved. If this had been put in place four and a half months ago, my daughter would still be here.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is researching more than 200 technologies that already exist to find the combination that they will require car manufacturers to implement.

MADD predicts the technology will include cameras to watch the driver’s eyes to detect impairment combined with the ability for the car to pull over to the roadside and park if a driver is determined to be impaired.

“The great thing about it is that a sober driver is never going to know this exists on their car. They’re going to have a completely normal driving experience. But, an impaired driver is certainly going to know this is on their car because it’s going to recognize them, maybe give them a quick opportunity to get off the road, but if they don’t, it’s going to park them,” said Burritt.

The NHTSA reports 10,142 Americans died in 2019 due to impaired driving.

South Carolina’s rate for deaths caused by drunk driving matches the national rate of 28% according to the SC Department of Public Safety.

“South Carolina could be called, arguably, the worst state in the nation for drunk driving,” said Burritt. “That’s a sad distinction that I’m sorry to share, but in 2019—the last year for which we have data on drunk driving fatalities, we’re 10th in the nation. We’re 23rd in population. Literally, we have more drunk driving fatalities than states like Michigan or New York.”

The infrastructure bill may come with a $1.2 trillion price tag, but the impaired driving technology mandate doesn’t require any funding. Burritt says it will be up to car manufacturers to implement the technology. He says it shouldn’t cause a price spike for new cars with the features and compares the cost to the normal price increase when cars add new standard safety features.

“The technology is going to revolutionize, and possibly end, drunk driving as we currently know it,” said Jones.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates once the features are standard on all cars, 9,400 lives will be saved each year.

“We’ll never know who those 9,400 lives a year will be, but there are going to be a lot more people who will be with their families and a lot of heartache prevented,” said Burritt.

For Jones, the pain of losing her daughter brings on a different kind of grief.

“You have a situation like this that could have been prevented. To me, it was a choice that someone makes. That just takes it to a whole other level,” said Jones.

After the three years of research, the NHTSA will present the requirements to car makers that will then have three to six years to implement the safety features.

“In terms of the time frame, we’re going to have to be patient,” said Burritt. “We wish this could be tomorrow, but that just can’t happen. The simple fact that it’s going to happen at all is just remarkable.”

Burritt says cars with the new technology will be on the roads within the next ten years.

“This was much needed,” said Jones. “I just feel that the new technology mandates are going to make our roads safer for the future of our family, our children, and so it’s definitely something that I’m glad that is being put in place.”

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