New vehicles will be needed to detect the blood alcohol content of drivers

WAKEFIELD, RI (WPRI) – In President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, there is a mandate that will require all new vehicles to be equipped with advanced empowered driving technology impaired, to reduce the number of people driving after drinking.

According to the bill, in 2019 there were more than 10,000 drunk driving deaths involving a driver whose blood alcohol level was above the legal limit in the United States. The technology will be able to passively monitor a driver’s blood alcohol level to determine if a driver is impaired or not. The car could prevent or limit a person’s ability to drive under the influence.

Paula Whitford knows the pain of losing someone in a drunk driving accident. Her son Lorenzo Smith and another woman were both killed almost four years ago. Police say Precious Montey got drunk and lost control of the car which ended up crashing into a tree in East Greenwich.

“It was 4 people who came out with probably all the same reason, two of them were able to go home, two of them didn’t. There was only one choice that was initially made throughout this ordeal, and that was the choice to drive,” Whitford said.

Whitford thinks the legislation is a step in the right direction, but said these cars will only be available to those who can afford them.

“Not everyone will be able to afford these cars, so what happened to these people who are just driving outdated cars. They can continue to go out and drive under the influence,” Whitford said.

She wants tougher penalties for those involved in impaired driving accidents. Montey was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but could be released three years early with good behavior.

ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown is concerned about the technology.

“How exactly does it work, how does it not create false positives, does it prevent people from driving when they’re not drunk, how do you limit data collection with people. ” Brown said.

Target 12 found that 44% of Rhode Island’s fatal crashes were drink-driving related in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

KEA Technologies in Massachusetts is one company that has worked on technology that can detect the presence of alcohol.

The technology can detect a person’s blood alcohol level through their breath or through their finger. If the blood alcohol level is above the legal limit, the car will turn on, but it will not 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 – sit down and call an Uber and try to get home a different way” , said Bud Zaouk, president and CEO of KEA Technologies.

The technology is extensively tested. 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 the sensor which captures the data which is analyzed, according to Zaouk.

Technology is also being formed to tell the difference between a driver’s and a passenger’s 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’s designed to be made by the millions, it’s designed to be scalable, so it’s inexpensive. That’s something we keep in mind,” Zaouk explained.

Some reviewers worry about data privacy issues.

“I would say that all car manufacturers have signed a principle of confidentiality, which they respect with regard to all the data that is in your vehicle today,” Zaouk explained.

According to the law, advanced impaired driving technology could be in cars by 2026.

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