Will the Federal Government Enforce Drunk-Driving DetectorsEach year, more than 10,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents caused by drunk driving, accounting for about one third of all motor vehicle fatalities. While we have long known of the dangers of drunk driving and California has implemented several criminal penalties for those who drive with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, these efforts have far from solved this fatal problem. One of the most difficult factors to overcome in preventing drunk driving fatalities is that the intoxicated driver suffers from impaired decision making. Even if there are harsh penalties for those who drink and drive, an intoxicated person often does not consider those consequences when they are unable to think rationally.

Passive vehicle-integrated alcohol impairment detection technology is a solution that has the potential to radically reduce the number of deaths caused by drunk driving by removing the decision-making burden from the intoxicated person. Passive impairment detection systems could work to prevent a car from starting if an individual’s blood alcohol level is above the legal limit in a way that is much less intrusive than a breathalyzer (and doesn’t therefore require a prior DUI conviction) and is much more difficult for the driver to circumnavigate.

Recent Fatal Accident Gives Rise to New Recommendation on Passive Alcohol Impairment Systems

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency whose mission is to conduct investigations of transportation accidents and issue safety recommendations. While it does not have authority to make laws or regulations, its recommendations are impactful on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and, as a result, the transportation industry at large.

Following a recent and tragically fatal accident in Fresco County, California, the NTSB conducted an extensive investigation into the cause and contributing factors of the accident. The NTSB issued a recommendation based on their findings that could make a dramatic change to the manufacture of new automobiles and the experience of driving in America by requiring all new vehicles to be equipped with passive alcohol impairment detection systems.

The accident that led to the recommendation occurred on the evening of January 1, 2021, on a rural state route outside of Avenal, California. A man left a New Year’s Day party with a blood alcohol level more than twice California’s legal limit. He was driving on SR-33 at nearly 100 mph when he drifted into the right shoulder and then dramatically overcorrected, losing control of the vehicle, and veering into the opposite lane of oncoming traffic. He collided into a pick-up truck whose driver had no opportunity to avoid the collusion due to the intoxicated driver’s high rate of speed.

The pick-up truck was occupied by a female driver, her four children, and three nieces and nephews. Upon collision, the pick-up truck was immediately engulfed in flames and all eight occupants were killed. The driver of the SUV was also killed.

Through investigation, the NTSP identified two additional factors in the accident: (1) none of the occupants were wearing seatbelts and (2) a toxicology report revealed cannabis in the SUV driver. However, the NTSB determined the main cause of the accident was the alcohol intoxication of the SUV driver, with his speed being a contributing factor.

As a result, the NTSB issued a recommendation that the NHTSA require all new vehicles to be installed with passive alcohol impairment systems. While the NTSP does not have the power to implement or require such changes, the recommendation followed a bill passed by Congress in August of 2022 that required the NHTSA to develop rules for vehicle manufactures concerning the installation of vehicle-integrated alcohol detection systems within 3 years.

What is a passive vehicle-integrated alcohol impairment detection system?

While there may be many different ways that vehicle manufacturers will incorporate alcohol impairment detection technology into their vehicles, we can assume that these systems will not require direct action from the driver. They also will not likely be very visible or interfere with the typical driving experience. Instead, these systems will likely involve monitoring driver behavior, eye movements, and other variables. Some technologies use infrared light to detect blood alcohol levels through the fingertip of a driver. It is fair to say that the implementation of such requirements will require innovation and refinement by vehicle manufacturers.

These systems will be very different from the traditional breathalyzer devices that are installed in the vehicles of individuals convicted of driving under the influence, requiring the driver to blow air from their mouth into a device that keeps the car’s ignition locked if alcohol is detected. While we cannot yet be sure of the specific functionality of the systems to be required in new vehicles, we can be sure that they will be much more discreet or “passive” than a breathalyzer and will likely require little to no action from the driver.

Experienced California Lawyer for Drunk Driving Injury or Wrongful Death Case

Passive vehicle-integrated alcohol detection systems present the opportunity to potential reduce the number of deaths caused by drunk driving by thousands each year. For those who have been injured or lost a loved one due to drunk driving, the implementation of this new technology cannot come soon enough.

At the Hicks Law Firm, we have successfully represented numerous individuals who have been injured by or lost a family member due to the actions of an intoxicated driver. These accidents can lead to the most catastrophic of injuries and even death.

Our team of seasoned and talented trial attorneys are here to help you recover the damages you have suffered from medical bills, short- or long-term disability, lost wages, or the wrongful death of a loved one. For more information and a complimentary consultation of your claim, please contact us today.