New Federal Law Targets Drunk Driving
The legislation includes money for developing in-car alcohol-detection technology and incentives for states to create new drunk-driving programs.
Research into new devices that automatically detect a driver's blood-alcohol level -- as opposed to requiring the use of a breathalyzer -- got a boost last week when President Barack Obama signed into law the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill, known as MAP-21. The law will kick in $24 million in funding for these advanced technologies over the next two years and will provide grant money to states for promoting anti-drunk-driving laws.
“The safety provisions included in MAP-21 could truly set in motion the elimination of drunk driving and save tens of thousands of lives each year,” Jan Withers, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said in a press release.
States will be encouraged to mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk-driving offenders; these devices require drivers to pass a breathalyzer test before their car's engine will start. According to MADD, such laws have reduced alcohol-related driving fatalities by more than half in Arizona and Oregon. "Research unequivocally proves that every drunk driver should receive an ignition interlock device to save lives,” Winters said.
Meanwhile, some groups have been pushing for in-vehicle alcohol-detection devices in all cars -- not just those driven by convicted drunk drivers. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program, a joint effort between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, is one such group. It says that the technology could save 7,000 lives each year if installed in all new vehicles.
But there's at least one opponent to this idea. The New York Times reports that Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, complained that lawmakers are being pressured to go above and beyond what's outlined in MAP-21. "There is a growing mountain of evidence showing that their true goal is to put alcohol-sensing technology in all cars as original equipment, set well below the 0.08 level," she says.
As of yet, no state laws require alcohol-testers in new vehicles. Some states require ignition interlocks for drunk-driving offenders to be set below 0.08, because DUI offenders are often subject to much lower blood-alcohol restrictions than the national limit.
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