NHTSA Proposes New Rule Regarding Technology to Better Detect and Prevent Drunk Driving

Federal regulators are pushing for the development of advanced technology that will be required in all new vehicles, which could prevent drunk and impaired driving in the U.S.

Federal highway safety officials have proposed a new rule, which may require that new passenger motor vehicles be equipped with software that can prevent drunk and impaired driving, as part of a continuing effort to reduce rising drunk driving auto accident injuries and deaths in the United States.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF) on December 12, outlining an update to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that would require advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology be more thoroughly researched, and then included in newer vehicle models, if finalized.

The proposal was released as part of the agency’s obligation to the federally funded “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” which directed the agency to establish new vehicle safety standards, and supports the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS). Both campaigns were introduced to address rising car accident injuries and deaths across the nation by improving vehicle and highway traffic safety.

According to the NHTSA, impaired driving accidents have been on the rise in recent years. In 2021, approximately 12,400 traffic deaths involved distracted driving and nearly 700 impaired driving deaths were due to driving while drowsy. However, officials indicate that driving under the influence of alcohol has become one of the leading causes of U.S. roadway deaths, and at least 13,384 people were killed in drunk driving accidents in 2021.

Advanced Drunk Driving Prevention Technology

While still in development, the agency has been overseeing research to create technology that can accurately detect a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) and prevent them from operating the vehicle while impaired.

Certain vehicle cameras, sensors and software can detect if a driver has consumed alcohol, is drowsy, or distracted by analyzing their driving performance. The technologies can detect how a driver holds the steering wheel, what direction they look while driving, the amount of time the driver’s eyes are closed, eye blinking speed, and where they position the vehicle in a lane.

However, while they appear to be effective so far, officials indicate the technologies fail to distinguish between different states of impairment and may also provide false positives when the driver has taken prescription medications that are necessary for them to drive safely.

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NHTSA officials say advances in technology and more research is needed to improve the drunk driving prevention safety features, as there is limited data on how effective they will be in real-world driving situations.

If the proposed rule is finalized, it would direct the NHTSA to develop the technologies up to certain performance requirements. Once that technology is developed, all new vehicles that carry 12 or less passengers would be required to be equipped with impaired driving and BAC detecting systems, with the exception of motorcycles and trucks not designed to carry passengers.

NHTSA Launches Drunk Driving Awareness Campaign

The proposed rule comes amid the agency’s annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, which is designed to encourage travelers to not drink and drive, especially with the holiday season approaching.

While drunk driving deaths often increase during late December and early January, the NHTSA indicates those numbers have been climbing in recent years. Approximately 1,012 drunk driving accident deaths occurred in December of 2021.

The agency announced it will put $14 million towards this year’s national media campaign, which includes a number of public service messages including: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over; If You Feel Different, You Drive Different; Drive High, Get a DUI; and Ride Sober or Get Pulled Over.

As part of the national campaign to warn driver of the dangers and consequences of drunk driving, drivers can expect to see the messages against impaired driving and more police officers on the road from December 13 until January 1.

Consumers are encouraged to make driving arrangements ahead of time if they plan to drink this holiday season, and anyone who notices an impaired driver on the road is encouraged to call 911 immediately. For more information, individuals may visit the NHTSA’s website.

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