Udall introduces ROADS SAFE act

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Bill would fund new technologies to reduce drunk driving crashes

By Special to the Monitor

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall, D–N.M., and Bob Corker, R–T.N., today introduced legislation designed to reduce the number of drunk driving crashes and fatalities on America’s roads by funding the development of new technologies to prevent drivers from operating vehicles while under the influence of alcohol.

The Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere, or ROADS SAFE, Act would authorize $12 million in annual funding for five years for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program to explore the feasibility, potential benefits and public policy challenges associated with using in-vehicle technology to prevent drunk driving.

In 2008 alone, drunk driving killed 11,773 people nationwide, including 143 in New Mexico and 327 in Tennessee. It is estimated that 8,000 lives could be saved each year if all vehicles were equipped with advanced alcohol detection technology.

“While New Mexico has been a leader in reducing the number of drunk drivers on the road, drunk driving continues to be a primary cause of fatal crashes in New Mexico and nationwide – and even one death caused by a drunk driver is unacceptable,” Udall said.

“This legislation will help keep Americans safe on the road by spurring the development of new technologies to prevent – and virtually eliminate – drunk driving crashes in the future.”

“Drunk driving destroys thousands of lives every year in America. The ROADS SAFE Act will invest in new technology research that could help put an end to these preventable deaths and improve highway safety,” Corker said.

NHTSA and DADSS would use the funding to explore a variety of emerging technologies designed to reduce drunk driving crashes. These include devices that determine a driver’s blood alcohol level by touching the steering wheel or engine start button, as well as sensors that passively monitor a driver’s breath or eye movements. If the sensors indicate that the driver’s blood alcohol level is over the legal limit, the vehicle would not start.

As New Mexico Attorney General from 1990-1998, Udall fought to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road and has continued to champion the cause in the Senate. In December, Udall joined Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D–N.J., in introducing legislation that would make states require the use of ignition interlock technology for all convicted drunk driving offenders.

This legislation would make New Mexico’s current DWI ignition interlock mandate the national standard.  

The Century Council, an organization dedicated to fighting drunk driving; the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), the national trade association of distillers; and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an association of 11 vehicle manufacturers, also support the ROADS SAFE Act.

“MADD commends the leadership of Sen. Udall and Sen. Corker as they introduce legislation, which could ultimately lead to the elimination of drunk driving. ROADS SAFE offers the opportunity to make drunk driving the public health equivalent of polio and to eliminate one of the primary threats to the American family,” MADD National President Laura Dean-Mooney said.