Buried deep on Page 135 of a $1 trillion spending bill that mainly adds EV charging infrastructure is a small provision that could make a big deal for automakers. Passed last year, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act asks that within three years, new cars would be equipped with drunk-driving deterrents automakers don’t yet know how to comply with.
“To be honest, I think it took everybody by surprise, not only in our company, but at all the OEMs and Tier 1’s that this legislation appeared,” Mike Franchy, North American director of supplier Asahi Kasei told Automotive News.
His company is working on a detector like a breathalyzer to monitor the ethyl alcohol content in the driver’s breath. Similar to an interlock device already on the market, the system could be embedded in a door or steering column. Interlocks on cars have been around for several years and cost thousands to purchase or can be leased for $100 or more per month. Smaller breathalyzer systems are available and can cost as little as $50, although those are portable machines that can’t disable a car’s ignition. Researchers say they may have systems to detect blood-alcohol levels via touch soon, although it’s unclear when that could be available.
Alcohol-related crashes are responsible for 30% of all U.S. traffic deaths, and in 2020, the most recent year data is available, was responsible for killing more than 11,000 people on roads. That number has gone up by 14% since 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Most states have a blood-alcohol content limit of .08 for adult drivers, although some states have a lower threshold for adults and younger drivers or a zero-tolerance policy for teenage and commercial drivers.
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