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Infrastucture Bill Includes Safety Technology Mandates for Cars, Trucks

New cars need to have drunk driver detection technology and a system to prevent children from being accidentally left in vehicles on hot days.

Further provisions of the 2,702-page draft law include a mandate for automatic emergency braking and accident avoidance systems for new vehicles as well as rear protection devices for tractor units to prevent the passenger compartments of cars from being crushed in rear-end collisions.

Jason Levine, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety, which advocates stricter automotive safety regulations, welcomed the start of the action.

“There is no question that our nation is long overdue for critical updates to our infrastructure, especially when it comes to vehicle safety and the rising tide of preventable car accidents,” he said.

Although people in the U.S. drove fewer cars due to the 2020 pandemic, people died, according to a. an estimated 38,680 people in road accidents, the highest number of annual deaths since 2007 release by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in June. The number of road deaths in the US rose 7.2% year-over-year, despite a 13.2% decrease in vehicle kilometers.

Supporters say the anti-drunkenness regulations in the measure will drastically reduce the number of deaths on US roads.

“This is the most significant rule-making in the history of the NHTSA,” said Stephanie Manning, government commissioner on drunk driving mothers. “Every year we wait, thousands of people will die.”

The provision reflects the legislation that MP Debbie Dingell has advocated for several years. It instructs the NHTSA to study the feasibility of various technologies and, within three years, to finalize a rule mandating some form of technology to combat drunkenness.

Drunk drivers

Systems studied include those that monitor a driver for signs of distracted, impaired, or fatigued driving. One uses sensors that scan drivers’ eyes for signs similar to the ones police officers look for when they suspect an obstruction at traffic controls.

“We can’t wait any longer to make our streets safer from drunk-driving accidents,” Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said in a statement. “Adding my bill to the bipartisan infrastructure package will help incentivize the development and implementation of technologies to end drinking and save lives once and for all.”

One measure to combat the death of children who are accidentally left in a car on hot days requires a “door logic” warning to remind the driver that a tailgate has been opened and closed before starting the engine. The warning instructs the driver when the engine is turned off to check the rear seat.

Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Car Safety, said she wished the bill had gone further to prevent child accidental deaths. Since 1990, more than 1,000 children have died in hot cars.

“The Senate version just requires a reminder system that doesn’t recognize anything,” said Fennell. “It doesn’t tell you if there’s a real child in the back seat.”

More needed

Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat campaigning for more auto safety laws, said variations of laws he put in place are included in the package, including those related to seatback failure, distracted driving, and recall, but he will anyway do after pushing more.

“We still have to fight to improve this law before it becomes law,” said Markey. “So I’m going to propose several amendments to strengthen my existing security regime and remove dangerous proposals that could undermine some of the rules we already have in the books.”

Any changes to the bill will be difficult and will require broad approval. Amendments require 60 votes to be adopted.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said it was important for Congress to look at auto safety but said she wished the bipartisan infrastructure move had gone further.

“The past year and a half have been exceptionally fatal for drivers and other road users,” Chase said in a statement. “This alarming, fatal upward trend must be countered with the further development of available, groundbreaking security technologies and other upgrades.”

Photo above: Vehicles travel Interstate 5, Interstate 10, US Route 101 and State Route 60 on the East Los Angeles Interchange in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, USA on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Photographer: Bing Guan / Bloomberg

Copyright 2021 Bloomberg.

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