NY lawmaker introducing bills to combat impaired, distracted driving

One of the bills would require all new cars to be equipped with technology to detect if a driver is under the influence


Robert Brodsky
Newsday

NEW YORK — Rep. Kathleen Rice will introduce a package of bills to combat impaired or distracted driving, including a requirement that within 10 years all new cars be equipped with advanced technology that uses infrared light to detect if a driver is under the influence.

The bills would also set federal criminal penalties — similar to those in effect in New York — against motorists who drive intoxicated or impaired with a child in the vehicle and would create a new education grant program to address distracted driving.

“Taken together, nearly 15,000 were killed in 2018 because of an impaired or distracted driver," said Rice (D-Garden City), a former Nassau County district attorney. "These are deadly and tragic epidemics that have claimed too many lives and destroyed too many families. It’s past time that we take action at the federal level to end this crisis." 

Rice is holding a news conference to announce the proposed bills Thursday afternoon at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and DWI prevention advocates.

The "End Drunk Driving Act" would give automobile manufacturers a decade to equip all new cars sold in the U.S. with technology that detects a driver’s blood alcohol content and prevents the vehicle from moving if the driver is at or above the legal intoxication limit.

The technology is currently being developed by the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program, a research partnership between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, which represents 17 automobile manufacturers.

The program responds to the touch of a driver’s fingertip and uses infrared light to measure the driver’s blood alcohol content. Unlike a Breathalyzer or interlock ignition device, the driver breathes normally to detect the BAC level and not into a tube.

A 2015 University of Michigan study found that requiring DWI-prevention technology in all new cars could prevent roughly 85 percent of all drunken driving-related deaths and injuries over 15 years, preserving more than 59,000 lives and avoiding an estimated 1.25 million injuries. 

The study, which proposed the use of ignition interlock devices in all vehicles, found the technology would save $343 billion within 15 years — recovering the cost of installing the devices within three years.

A second bill, the Prevent Impaired Driving Child Endangerment Act would set criminal penalties nationwide against motorists who drive while intoxicated or impaired with a child passenger. The measure would require every state to adopt bills similar to Leandra’s Law in New York, which made it a felony for an individual to drive drunk or impaired with a child passenger.

The bill would require drivers convicted under the law be charged with a felony, punishable by up to 4 years in prison, and have their license suspended unless an ignition interlock system is installed. The driver would also need to undergo mandatory substance abuse treatment while authorities would be required to report the incident to a state child abuse registry. States that fail to comply with the law would lose a percentage of federal funding beginning in fiscal 2021, the bill states.

The "Distracted Driving Education Act of 2019" would create a $5 million competitive grant, awarded by the Department of Transportation, to nonprofit groups focused on preventing distracted driving.

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©2019 Newsday

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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