The scourge of drunken driving has impacted the lives of the vast majority of Americans in one way or another. So it’s hard to deny the noble intent behind the Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act of 2019, a bipartisan Senate effort introduced this month that would require automakers to build all light vehicles by 2024 with breath or touch-based sensors that can detect blood-alcohol levels and prevent drunken drivers from starting their vehicles. Debbie Dingell, a House Democrat from Michigan, has proposed similar legislation.
With approximately 10,000 alcohol-related driving fatalities recorded in the United States per year, the idea of federally mandated technological intervention seems like a no-brainer — especially because NHTSA and a coalition of automakers have already been working together to develop such technology. One Breathalyzer-like device available for licensing is on the horizon, but it doesn’t detect a precise BAC reading.
Automakers — accused by bill co-author Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., of failing to buy in — as well as dealers ought to embrace bringing a fully fledged solution to market.
At first blush, this might appear to be another regulation imposed on an industry already weary of government rules that put further pressure on vehicle affordability. And it would add another layer of engineering and design complexity.
The public at large is probably not interested in hearing any cost concerns that might be raised by an industry making billions in profits over potentially lifesaving technology — technology that could go a long way toward solving one of our biggest social ills.
A couple of factors could mitigate the cost issue.
First, industrywide implementation would mean scale for automakers and suppliers of the detectors.
Second, automakers and dealers should seek to have some of the insurance and medical cost savings directed toward the auto industry to make this technology — and the autos that will carry it — affordable to Americans.
To their credit, the sponsoring senators call for a “stakeholder team” that includes automakers and their suppliers, as well as safety advocates, fleet managers and experts in public policy, marketing and product releases. We hope that these parties can come together and find a mutually beneficial way to achieve this lofty goal.