Sen. Charles Schumer Thursday detailed a bipartisan bill that he supports to set aside $12 million annually over five years to create technology that would "prevent drunken driving instead of prosecuting it after the fact."
Schumer said the bill would bring together car companies, the Department of Transportation and local anti-drunken-driving groups to create tools that would prevent vehicles from starting when a drunk person tries to drive.
There were 2,011 drunken-driving deaths in New York State between 2004 and 2008. The 349 deaths in Nassau and Suffolk counties made Long Island the second deadliest region in the state, behind New York City, Schumer said.
Schumer's push comes as drivers take to the roads amid the summer party season. "This time of the year is particularly problematic for drunk drivers," he said. "It is just heartbreaking and heart-rending."
Nationally, drunken-driving deaths are roughly a quarter of the 40,000 logged annually four decades ago, said Tom McCoy, director of the Long Island chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "Technology is the next leap in reducing that number," he added.
Lenny Rosado, whose 11-year-old daughter's death last year in a drunken driving crash led to Leandra's Law, which made it a felony to drive drunk in the state with a child 15 or younger, said he wished the car of the woman who drove his child had had the technology.
"Once she would have sat down and grabbed that steering wheel, that's it," said Rosado, 45, of Manhattan. "She's not going anywhere . . . and my daughter's life would not have been taken."
Among the tools to be researched are sensors that would determine a person's blood-alcohol level through the sweat on their hands when they touch the steering wheel or the engine start button, Schumer said. Other technologies include sensors that could monitor a driver's breath or eye movements, he said.
"The minute someone over the legal limit sat in the driver's seat, the engine would disengage," Schumer said.
Det. Lt. Kevin Smith, a Nassau Police Department spokesman, said research on any technology that can prevent the "devastating consequences" of drunken driving is welcome.
"Despite publicity, education and strict enforcement, we still had 73 people arrested for DWI infractions over Memorial Day weekend," Smith said.
Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group, said the auto industry supports the bill. He called the $12 million a year "a good start. There's a significant investment by automakers themselves to research these technologies."
With Pervaiz Shallwani