IIHS: The ultimate solution to impaired driving is in reach

Traffic Safety Pulse News

Making roads safer often involves doing a lot of little things. There’s no single reason crashes occur and no single way to protect people from death and injury. When we discuss a given solution — whether it’s in the realm of vehicle technology, road design or enforcement — we are usually talking about shaving off a few hundred fatalities from the annual toll at best.

But recent action by Congress opens the door to something much bigger. If we seize this opportunity, we could put an end to one of the most persistent highway safety problems — impaired driving — and prevent more than 9,000 deaths a year.

Tucked into the sprawling bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 is a congressional mandate for NHTSA to require every new passenger vehicle to be equipped with a system that prevents an alcohol-impaired driver from operating it.

The law is a huge victory for advocates, led by victims of impaired driving and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but plenty of safety rules have withered on the vine despite legislative action. It’s the job of federal agencies to flesh out Congress’ intentions, and they sometimes deviate from them.

In this case, NHTSA must complete several large tasks before issuing a final regulation. The agency will need to research the breadth of potential technologies before determining what tests and criteria to use to evaluate manufacturer compliance. It’s also expected to come up with a cost estimate for equipping the fleet and compare that with the total societal cost of illegal impaired driving ($296 billion in 2019 by NHTSA’s own calculation). Finally, it must publish a proposed regulation, weigh public comments and make revisions as needed. The process doesn’t lend itself to shortcuts, which is why it’s crucial that the agency proceed without delay. To read more about this approach, click here.

View from inside a car looking out into the street at night. The street and car lights are streaked and blurred, indicating that the car is speeding and the driver may be impaired.