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Technology to stop drunk drivers could be coming to every new car in the nation

Los Angeles Police Department officers check drivers at a DUI checkpoint in Reseda, Los Angeles, California on April 13, 2018.
Mark Ralston
AFP via Getty Images
Los Angeles Police Department officers check drivers at a DUI checkpoint in Reseda, Los Angeles, California on April 13, 2018.

Federal automobile regulators say they've taken the first step toward making technology that prevents drunk and impaired driving standard in new cars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Tuesday that such technology could help end a problem that kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year.

"Impaired driving crashes are 100% preventable – there's simply no excuse or reason to drive impaired by alcohol or drugs," NHTSA acting administrator Ann Carlson said in a statement.

The advance notice of proposed rulemaking announced by the agency is a preliminary stage in the creation of new federal rules.

According to NHTSA, it will allow regulators to collect information about the current state of technology used to detect and prevent impaired driving and figure out if it could be implemented nationwide.

Some technologies in development include breath and touch sensors to detect whether someone drank alcohol, as well as cameras that can monitor a person's eye movements to tell if they're inhibited, Reuters reported.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving applauded the announcement and said it would push for the implementation of the technology as soon as possible.

"Everyone involved in this rulemaking process at NHTSA and everyone designing impaired driving prevention technologies at car companies need to understand that this is about saving human beings from the horror I've experienced and from the deaths and injuries of tens of thousands of Americans," said MADD national president Tess Rowland, who was hit head-on by a drunk driver in 2021.

"We must get this done. Lives are at stake," she added.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group that represents automakers, said in a statement that it was reviewing NHTSA's announcement.

"Every single day automakers are working to make vehicles safer and smarter and to help address avoidable tragedies caused by behavior like drunk driving," the group said.

According to NHTSA, 13,384 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in 2021, making it one of the top causes of death on the road.

Deaths, injuries and property damage also amount to some $280 billion in lost wages, medical costs and more, the agency estimated.

The bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 compels NHTSA to develop a federal standard requiring new passenger vehicles to include technology that can prevent drunk and impaired driving as long as it is "reasonable" and "practicable" and can reduce crashes and deaths.

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