WASHINGTON — An independent group composed of auto safety experts and consumer advocates will assist with the development of a technology that could prevent drunken or impaired drivers from starting their vehicles.
A provision in the $1 trillion infrastructure law orders NHTSA to issue a final rule by November 2024 requiring new vehicles to be equipped with an advanced drunken- and impaired-driving prevention technology.
Once the rule is issued, automakers would have between two and three years to implement the technology as standard equipment in all new light-duty cars and trucks.
The technical working group — co-chaired by Stephanie Manning, chief government affairs officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Jeffrey Michael, a former associate administrator at NHTSA — will be tasked with supporting efforts to ensure the requirement is fulfilled as soon as possible.
"We understand that this is a very significant regulatory undertaking, but it is also a necessary one since there is the potential to save so many lives and essentially eliminate impaired driving, the leading cause of traffic deaths," Manning said in a statement Tuesday.
"We plan to provide the best information on currently available technologies and developments by other regulatory bodies and the supplier community around the world to make implementation of this lifesaving technology a success," she added.
Along with Manning and Michael, the group has 11 other participants including Nat Beuse, Aurora's vice president of safety; Kelly Funkhouser, program manager of vehicle technology at Consumer Reports; Don Tracy, a retired Denso North America executive; and David Zuby, chief research officer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
It is unclear whether automakers will be invited to participate in the group.
"We certainly look forward to learning more about what the auto industry is doing to help save lives and prevent injuries, get this standard finalized and end impaired driving once and for all," a spokesperson for the group told Automotive News.
Alcohol-impaired driving deaths represent roughly one-third of all highway fatalities in the U.S. each year. According to the IIHS, alcohol-detection systems that prevent impaired driving could save more than 9,400 lives annually.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade association that represents most major automakers, said last year that the industry has long been committed to supporting public and private efforts to address alcohol-impaired driving.
For its part, the industry has been working with NHTSA to develop the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety technology, which features a breath- and touch-based system to measure a driver's blood-alcohol level.
"We appreciate the efforts of congressional leaders and other stakeholders to advance a legislative approach that provides NHTSA the ability to review all potential technologies as options for federal regulation," John Bozzella, CEO of the alliance, said in August before the infrastructure bill became law.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, who spearheaded the provision with Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., said now is the time to implement the technology and save lives.
"When Congress passed my legislation requiring car manufacturers to install drunk-driving prevention technology as standard equipment in new vehicles, we sent a clear message that we need to end this trauma now," said Dingell, D-Mich.
As NHTSA begins the rule-making process, she added, the newly formed group will "ensure this technology is implemented quickly and effectively."