NTSB: Put a Booze Detector in Every New Car

Congress has already required NHTSA to make automakers install systems within 3 years
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 21, 2022 7:41 AM CDT
NTSB Wants Alcohol Detection System in Every New Car
A row of crosses form a memorial along Highway 33 as police officers survey the scene a day after a crash killed nine people south of Coalinga, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. Investigators said the driver of an SUV involved in the crash was drunk and didn't have a license.   (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP)

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending that all new vehicles in the US be equipped with blood alcohol monitoring systems that can stop an intoxicated person from driving. The recommendation, if enacted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, could reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes, one of the biggest causes of highway deaths in the US, per the AP. The new push to make roads safer was included in a report released Tuesday about a horrific crash last year in which a drunk driver collided head-on with another vehicle near Fresno, Calif., killing both adult drivers and seven children. NHTSA said this week that roadway deaths in the US are at crisis levels. Nearly 43,000 people were killed last year, the greatest number in 16 years.

In 2020, the most recent figures available, 11,654 people died in alcohol-related crashes, according to NHTSA data. That's about 30% of all US traffic deaths, and a 14% increase over 2019 figures, the NTSB said. The NTSB, which has no regulatory authority and can only ask other agencies to act, said the recommendation is designed to put pressure on NHTSA to move. Under last year's bipartisan infrastructure law, Congress required NHTSA to make automakers install alcohol monitoring systems within three years, though the agency can seek an extension. "We need NHTSA to act. We see the numbers," NTSB Chairman Jennifer Homendy said, adding NTSB has been pushing NHTSA to explore alcohol monitoring technology since 2012. "We need to make sure that we're doing all we can to save lives."

The recommendation also calls for systems to monitor a driver's behavior, making sure they’re alert. Homendy said many cars now have cameras pointed at the driver, which have the potential to limit impaired driving. But Homendy says she also understands that perfecting the alcohol tests will take time. The agency and a group of 16 automakers have been jointly funding research on alcohol monitoring since 2008, forming a group called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety. The group has hired a Swedish company to research technology that would automatically test a driver’s breath for alcohol and stop a vehicle from moving if the driver is impaired, said Jake McCook, spokesman for the group. Another company is working on light technology that could test for blood alcohol in a person’s finger, he said. (More National Transportation Safety Board stories.)

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