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Big step taken toward elimination of drunk driving

Proponents of a bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives say that if the measure becomes law, it would spell the end of drunk driving.

Though the bill is not yet law - it still has to clear the Senate and be signed by the president - the House has taken a big step toward requiring automakers to include alcohol-detecting systems in all new vehicles.

The federal government and auto manufacturers are jointly researching a passive driver alcohol-detection system. A passive system means that drivers would not have to perform any tests; the vehicle test drivers unobtrusively on its own. And if a driver's blood-alcohol content (BAC) meets or exceeds the legal threshold of .08 percent, the vehicle won't start and cannot be driven.

The joint research effort is currently developing a system that would sample the air in the vehicle's cabin and a separate system with steering-wheel sensors that can detect alcohol via contact with the driver's skin.

Volvo recently announced that it will include an impairment detection system in some of its vehicles that will use in-cabin cameras to identify driver impairment.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 10,000 people die annually in violent motor vehicle collisions caused by drunk drivers. 

The transportation and infrastructure bill recently approved by the House bill, would direct the NHTSA to develop a mandate within five years to require the alcohol-sensing tech in all new vehicles. Because the technology would only be included in new vehicles, it would take time to see results, but a recent study concluded that within three years, more than a thousand lives would be saved annually. That figure would double within the mandate's first six years and within 12 years, between 4,600 and 5,900 lives would be spared by drunk drivers annually.

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