Groups make push for anti-drunken-driving technology

John Egan

Interests as diverse as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Allstate and State Farm are calling on Congress to set aside $60 million for research into in-car technology designed to curb drunken driving.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says about 8,000 traffic deaths could be prevented every year if devices were used in all vehicles to stop alcohol-impaired motorists from driving.

The federal funding -- $12 million a year for five years -- would support the ongoing Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) research program. The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are conducting the research.

In-car devices would be optional

The goal of the research program is to develop vehicle technology "that will instantaneously and passively detect if a driver is drunk" -- above the legal blood-alcohol level of 0.08 -- and keep the vehicle from starting, according to a letter sent by nearly two dozen groups and companies to two key congressmen.

"The technology must … be extremely accurate, inexpensive and a non-invasive optional safety feature," the letter says.

According to a U.S. Department of Transportation announcement in January, one system being tested determines a driver's blood-alcohol level through a touch-based approach and another uses a breath-based approach.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says DADSS "will not prohibit people from enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at the game."

As it stands now, the only anti-drunken-driving technology available for vehicles is an ignition interlock device, which is an in-car breathalyzer about the size of a cellphone. Some motorists convicted of drunken driving must have such devices installed in their cars. A driver breathes into the interlock device, which is wired into a car's ignition system. If the driver's blood-alcohol content is above a set amount, the engine won't start.

Public supports technology

Surveys conducted in 2009 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed at least two-thirds of the American public supported anti-drunken-driving technology like the devices being studied by the DADSS program.

The letter urges that the funding be tucked into a transportation bill being considered by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The letter was sent to committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., along with the senior Democrat on the committee, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia.

In the House, the DADSS funding measure is being pushed by U.S. Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Heath Shuler, D-N.C.; and John Sarbanes, D-Md.

The U.S. Senate has passed legislation backing the DADSS funding.

Already, $10 million is being spent on the DADSS program.

Here is a list of the organizations that signed the letter:

AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Allstate Insurance, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Automotive Policy Council, American Highway Users Alliance, American International Automobile Dealers Association, American Trucking Associations, Association of Global Automakers, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Governors Highway Safety Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, National Beer Wholesalers Association, National Organizations for Youth Safety, National Safety Council, Nationwide Insurance, Safe Kids USA, State Farm, The Century Council, and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

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