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Federal agency makes progress on impaired driving tech mandate

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is moving closer to rulemaking that will seek out and potentially standardize the implementation of technology to combat impaired driving.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg said during a press conference Tuesday that NHTSA is calling for public comment ahead of a proposed rulemaking on advanced impaired driving prevention technology.

“[This] announcement lays the groundwork for an impaired driving rulemaking that will seek the most mature and effective technology,” Polly Trottenberg told reporters. “We’re going to call on everyone our advocate partners, academics and innovators in the technology space: Please bring us your best ideas, your research. Let’s join together to advance as quickly as we can the next technology and impaired driving prevention.”

NHTSA said in its advance of proposed rulemaking that this stage is meant to gather information to develop performance requirements and mandate that new vehicles are equipped with impaired driving prevention technology.

“Recent developments in vehicle technology present new opportunities to further reduce drunk and impaired driving crashes and fatalities or eliminate them altogether,” NHTSA said. “Private and public researchers have also made significant progress on technologies that are capable of measuring and quantifying driver state and performance (e.g., hands on the steering wheel, visual gaze direction, lane position). 

“However, harnessing these technologies for drunk and impaired driving detection and prevention remains a significant challenge.”

Those challenges include differentiating between various impaired states, preventing false positives, and determining how to prevent impaired driving, NHTSA said. It added that because of “technology immaturity” and a lack of testing protocols, drugged driving is not included in its notice.

The federal agency’s movement on impaired driving is being made as a result of a 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law mandate to require every new passenger vehicle be equipped with a system that can measure driver blood alcohol content before embarking on a trip.

The congressional mandate called on NHTSA to take several steps before issuing a final regulation. This includes:

    • Researching the breadth of possible technologies and determining what must be done to ensure manufacturer compliance;
    • Preparing a cost estimate for equipping fleets with impaired driving prevention technologies, and comparing it with the “societal cost of illegal impaired driving;” and
    • Publishing a proposed regulation and making necessary revisions following public feedback.

In April, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) executive director called on the government to move forward “without delay” on the law.

David Zuby called technology the “ultimate solution” for preventing impaired driving collisions.

“Making roads safer often involves doing a lot of little things. There’s no single reason crashes occur and no single way to protect people from death and injury. When we discuss a given solution — whether it’s in the realm of vehicle technology, road design, or enforcement — we are usually talking about shaving off a few hundred fatalities from the annual toll at best,” Zuby said in an opinion piece at the time.

“But recent action by Congress opens the door to something much bigger. If we seize this opportunity, we could put an end to one of the most persistent highway safety problems — impaired driving — and prevent more than 9,000 deaths a year.”

Comments on the notice, which can be submitted online in reference to Docket No. NHTSA-2022-0079 will be accepted within 90 days of it being published in the Federal Register.


Featured image courtesy of Daniel Chetroni/iStock

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