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US Safety Board Wants Cars to Check Drivers for Alcohol Use

Flowers and candles are left on an intersection after after crash involving as many as six cars near a gas station in the unincorporated Windsor Hills in Los Angeles, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
US Safety Board Wants Cars to Check Drivers for Alcohol Use
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending that all new vehicles in the United States have blood alcohol monitoring systems. The systems are designed to stop people who have had too much to drink from driving.

If the recommendation is approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it could reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes, one of the biggest causes of highway deaths in the United States.

NHTSA said this week that road deaths in the U.S. are at crisis levels. Nearly 40,000 people were killed last year, the greatest number in 16 years, as Americans returned to the roads after pandemic stay-at-home orders.

The agency says 11,654 people died in 2020 from alcohol-related crashes. That is the most recent year the data is available. That number represents about 30 percent of all U.S. traffic deaths.

The NTSB, which has no legal power and can only ask other agencies to act, said the recommendation is designed to put pressure on NHTSA to take action. It could be effective as early as three years from now.

“We need NHTSA to act. We see the numbers,” NTSB Chairman Jennifer Homendy said. “We need to make sure that we’re doing all we can to save lives.”

The NTSB, she said, has been pushing NHTSA to explore alcohol monitoring technology since 2012. “The faster the technology is implemented the more lives that will be saved,” she said.

The recommendation also calls for systems to monitor a driver’s behavior, making sure they are paying attention, or alert. She said many cars now have cameras pointed at the driver, which could possibly limit drunk driving.

But Homendy says she also understands that perfecting the alcohol tests will take time. “We also know that it’s going to take time for NHTSA to evaluate what technologies are available and how to develop a standard,” she said.

The agency and a group of 16 automakers have been supporting research on alcohol monitoring since 2008. They formed 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 has had too much to drink, said Jake McCook, spokesman for the group. The driver would not have to blow into a tube. Instead, a sensor would check the driver’s breath, McCook said.

Another company is working on light technology that could test for blood alcohol in a person’s finger, he said. Breath technology could be ready by the end of 2024, while touch technology would come about a year later.

It could take one or two more model years after carmakers get the technology for it to be in new vehicles, McCook said. Once the technology is ready, it will take years for it to be in most of the cars on U.S. roads.

Under last year’s law to rebuild highways, the U.S. Congress required NHTSA to make automakers install alcohol monitoring systems within three years. The law does not name the exact technology, only that it must “passively monitor” a driver to see if they are affected by alcohol.

I’m Ashley Thompson.

Tom Krisher reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

recommend -- v. to suggest that someone do (something)

monitor -- v. to watch, observe, listen to, or check (something) for a special purpose over a period of time

highway – n. a main road that connects cities, towns, etc.

implement – v. to begin to do or use (something, such as a plan) : to make (something) active or effective

evaluate -- v. to judge the value or condition of (someone or something) in a careful and thoughtful way

standard – n. a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable

passively – adv. used to describe someone who allows things to happen or who accepts what other people do or decide without trying to change anything