Traffic experts, an anti-drunk-driving advocacy organization and a local prosecutor praised measures to equip new cars with alcohol-impairment detection systems as a critical step in curbing drunken driving and the injuries and deaths that can result.
“We are in favor of any steps that can curb the dangers of drunk driving and protects the residents of Nassau County and all Americans," Nassau District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly said in a statement, noting that already, "court-ordered ignition interlock devices save lives."
She added, "It is unclear what technology will be developed to achieve of this goal, but we continue to support any measures that reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes and the thousands of tragic deaths on our roadways every year."
Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney's office couldn't immediately comment.
The issue was in the news this week when the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all new cars be equipped with a blood-alcohol monitoring system to prevent an intoxicated person from driving a vehicle. The board cited a horrific crash in California on New Year's Day 2021 it had investigated in which an intoxicated driver who was speeding at close to 100 mph killed himself and eight others.
The board's recommendation supports a provision contained in the infrastructure and jobs act bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021, said Shawn Hirst, regional executive director for New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has an office in Melville.
The legislation, which MADD lobbied for, Hirst said, requires that by 2024 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is to set the standard for impaired-driving-prevention technology that automakers are to install in new cars by 2026-27, according to a MADD fact sheet.
"We are grateful that the NTSB put its weight behind prioritizing impaired driving prevention technology in all new cars," MADD's national president, Alex Otte, said in a statement this week.
"We know that every month in the country 1,000 more people die in drunk-driving related crashes; 25,000 are injured every month; and every day 32 people are killed and 800 are injured," Hirst said. "Not only on Long Island, but everywhere in the country this will work towards a future where we can eliminate this crisis."
Robert Sinclair Jr., AAA Northeast's spokesman, said, "Generally, we support this kind of technology ... to try to get closer to zero deaths." He said that "in 2020, 30% of all traffic fatalities involved alcohol impairment," resulting in 11,654 deaths. "And that number was a 14% increase over 2019."
On Long Island, Nassau County police reported 520 DWI arrests so far in 2022, with nine DWI fatalities and 11 drug-related fatalities, up from 430 arrests, with nine DWI fatalities and six drug-related fatalities, during the same period in 2021, according to department spokesman Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun.
Suffolk County police said that this year, up to Monday, there were 938 DWI or driving while ability impaired arrests, with three DWI arrests involving three fatalities. In the same period last year, there were 995 DWI arrests, with five DWI arrests involving six fatalities. The Suffolk tally doesn't include the five East End towns.
A MADD fact sheet notes that the alcohol impairment detection system being considered "has NO relation to police Breathalyzers or to ignition interlock devices that require a motorist to actively blow into a device."
Troy Walden, director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute's Center for Alcohol and Drug Education Studies, said the automotive industry has been working since 2008 "to develop ... an in-car system that does ambient air scan for alcohol. ... If they detect it, the vehicle is not able to be put into drive."
He said NHTSA has to standardize the systems "so they go across all vehicle models. It’s going to take time. ... Until the market is saturated with the newer models, and older models go out of the circulation system, there’s going to be a gap" in safety.