Dingell pushes provision to curtail drunk driving in House infrastructure package

Dingell pushes provision to curtail drunk driving in House infrastructure package
© Greg Nash

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellRecovering America through the lens of wildlife Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden suspends Arctic oil leases issued under Trump |  Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season | Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps MORE (D-Mich.) called Thursday for passage of a provision to direct the Department of Transportation to require passenger cars be equipped with drunken driving prevention systems.

The provision, included in the House Democrats’ infrastructure package, would compel the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the Department of Transportation, to commence rule-making on drunken driving prevention technology. 

Dingell introduced it in the House as the Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate (HALT) Drunk Driving Act in September, named after the multiple members of a family who were killed by a drunken driver in Michigan.

“These are preventable deaths, and it's critical we do everything we can to prevent these tragedies,” Dingell said on a call with reporters Thursday.

The House's $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan also includes a huge increase in funding to repair roads and bridges and to expand broadband access in rural areas.

“This is a massive step forward for drunk driving legislation and hopefully we’re going to pass it in the House,” Dingell said.

Almost 30 people die a day in drunken driving crashes, according to data from the NHTSA. In 2018, drunken driving led to more than 10,500 fatalities.

Fewer drunken driving arrests and deaths occurred during the peak of coronavirus stay-at-home orders, but the Fourth of July, which comes as many states are lifting restrictions, is typically one of the deadliest days for drunken driving. In 2017, 237 people were killed in drunken-driving crashes during the Fourth of July holiday, according to NHTSA.

Sens. Tom UdallTom UdallSenate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin Study: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate MORE (D-N.M.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) in October introduced companion legislation — which would promote the research and development of advanced alcohol-detection technology that would be required in new motor vehicles — in the Senate.

Udall said Thursday that equipping the technology in new vehicles is no different than requiring airbags in vehicles, which, he noted, is “technology that we have all come to expect, in fact, demand.” 

The NHTSA would be required to do the rule-making but the technologies could include cameras or alcohol detectors, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). 

“This approach is fair to the industry and sets realistic goals to end drunk driving,” MADD President Helen Witty said on the call. She noted that the effort follows the European Transport Safety Council’s Euro NCAP, which is working on adopting technology for passenger cars by 2025.

Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOnline school raises new concerns about cyberbullying Progressives nearly tank House Democrats' Capitol security bill Battle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers MORE (D-Ill.), Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce chairwoman, said on the call that the provision isn’t “too much to ask.”

“We want to make sure that every car, regardless of its price or size, will have these kinds of protections in them,” she said.