WAKEFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — In President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law there is a mandate that will require all new vehicles to come equipped with advanced impaired driving technology, to curb the amount of people who get behind the wheel after drinking.
According to the bill, in 2019 there were more than 10,000 drunk driving related fatalities that involved a driver with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit in the United States. The technology will be able to passively monitor a drivers blood-alcohol level to determine if a driver is impaired or not. The car could prevent or limit someone’s ability to drive under the influence.
Paula Whitford knows the pain of losing someone to drunk driving crash. Her son Lorenzo Smith and another woman were both killed nearly four years. Police said Precious Montey got behind the wheel drunk and lost control of the car that ended up crashing into a tree in East Greenwich.
“It was 4 people that went out with probably all the same reason, two of them got to come home, two of them didn’t. There was only one choice that was initially made throughout that whole ordeal, it was the choice to drive,” Whitford said.
Whitford believes this legislation is a step in the right direction, but said these cars will only be available to those who can afford them.
“Not everybody is going to be able to afford those cars, so what happened to those people that are just driving outdated cars. they get to keep going out there and driving under the influence,” Whitford said.
She wants higher penalties for those who are involved in drunk driving crashes. Montey was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but could get out three years early with good behavior.
The Executive Director of the ACLU, Steven Brown has some concerns about the technology.
“How exactly does it work, how does it not create false positives, prevent people from driving when they are not drunk how you limit the collection of data with people.” said Brown.
Target 12 found 44% of deadly crashes in Rhode Island were related to drinking and driving in 2019, according to the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
KEA Techologies in Massachusetts is one company that has been working on technology that can detect the presence of alcohol.
The technology can pick up someone’s blood alcohol level through their breath or tough the finger. If the blood alcohol level is above the legal limit the car will turn on, but it won’t allow a person to drive.
“You get in the car and it says it’s not a good idea for you to drive, maybe you should take some time off– sit this one out and call an Uber and try to get home differently,” said Bud Zaouk, the President and CEO of KEA Technologies.
The technology is being tested extensively. One way is with human subjects who consume alcohol in a controlled environment. The subject sits in the passenger seat of a vehicle with a sober driver and blows into into the sensor that captures data that is analyzed, according to Zaouk.
The technology is also being trained to tell difference between a driver and a passengers blood alcohol level.
As for the cost Zaouk said, the technology is meant to be mass produced like the blind spot detection technology that many cars have today.
“From a technology perspective, it is designed to be manufactured in to millions, it is designed to be scalable so it is low cost. Its something we keep in our mind,” explained Zaouk.
Some critics are concerned of data privacy issues.
“I would say all the auto manufactures have signed on to a privacy principal, that they abide by when it comes to all the data that is in your vehicle today,” Zaouk explained.
According to the legislation, the advanced impaired driving technology could be in cars by 2026.