Proposed federal standard would require cars to 'prevent or limit operation' by impaired drivers

A bipartisan group composed of Senators released draft text for a huge new bipartisan infrastructure bill. It proposes more than a trillion dollars of spending and many other far-reaching provisions. A small section of the bill that is not often mentioned could have important implications for the fight against drunk driving. It eventually mandates a new safety technology in cars to prevent impaired drivers from driving.The Advanced Impaired Driving Technology provision was introduced under the heading. It would require that the Department of Transportation establish a new standard to detect and prevent impaired driving. The bill requires the secretary of transportation within three years to publish a standard, and the new requirement will take effect three years later. Although the specific requirements of the standard are not clear, it would require that cars passively monitor the performance and limits of motor vehicle drivers in order to determine if they may be impaired.The system would passively monitor a driver's performance... in order to determine if that driver is impaired.While the exact method of creating this system is still unknown, advocates claim that much of it is available. Some models of Lexus, BMW and Mercedes Benz already include driver monitoring systems. These systems monitor drivers' eyes and face to make sure they are active piloting the vehicle. Systeme like lane detection can be used to detect impairment and alert the driver if they are constantly veering out of their lane.Jason Levine, Center for Auto Safety, says that twenty years ago this technology was not available. But, we now have the technology. It is possible to install technology in vehicles to detect impairments and stop people from injuring themselves or others.The new standard would not be restricted to drunk drivers. The systems would measure impairment directly and be equally effective in detecting impairment due to prescription drugs, emotional distress, or simple distraction. The longer-term goal would be to mandate passive alcohol monitoring systems like the ones currently being developed at Volvo.Although the provisions aim to create a new mandatory requirement on automakers, it is still far away. The infrastructure bill is still under negotiation and could be amended or removed by lawmakers. Even if the bill passes, the Department of Transportation has broad discretion in how and when it implements the requirement. It could even delay it beyond what Congress set.Auto safety advocates still see this as an opportunity to combat impaired driving, which can cause as many as 10,000 deaths per year according to some estimates. It will take time but it is possible to get there, according to Cathy Chase, president, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. This type of rulemaking is what gave rise to all the technologies we now have: airbags and seatbelts.Despite this, there could be significant political backlash to the new measures. Safety measures in the past were simply additional features that protected users in the event they crashed. An impaired driving detector would limit the vehicle's functionality, stopping users from driving when they want to.Auto safety advocates cannot ignore the increasing death toll from impaired driving. Chase said that while I believe [the political fight] is a real concern, we also have the victims whose families were taken away because they were impaired.It's a proposal worth fighting for, according to Levine, an auto safety advocate. Is there a downside to this feature? He says that it is possible. We have a generational chance to stop adding victims of drunk driving to these memorials and to use existing technology to get after the performance, not the behavior.