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Federal lawmakers explore automotive tech to stop drunk drivers

Intoxicated drivers cause serious and sometimes deadly car accidents in California every year. A new bipartisan bill circulating the U.S. Congress seeks to develop and require technology within vehicles that would prevent ignition by drivers who have consumed alcohol. The Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act of 2019 calls on automakers to install alcohol detection systems in all new vehicles by 2024. Lawmakers believe that the law would prevent approximately 7,000 deaths every year.

The successful record of ignition interlock devices, or IIDs, which courts sometimes use to prevent convicted drunk drivers from driving under the influence again, has inspired the legislative effort. An IID measures the alcohol content in a driver's breath and stops the vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol. According to statistics provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, IIDs have halted over 3 million ignitions by drunk drivers since 2006.

The authors of the RIDE Act intend to support the development of automotive technology in partnership with automakers and researchers. The act designates federal spending of $50 million to launch the project. Research so far has proposed more ignition locking devices that depend on breath analysis as well as technology that would measure intoxication with skin sensors.

Technical solutions may one day greatly reduce the harm caused by intoxicated or reckless drivers. The law already recognizes the negligence of drunk driving and may support an accident victim's personal injury claim for damages. After a car crash, an attorney may investigate the accident to see if any evidence exists that the at-fault driver was drinking or distracted. This evidence might convince an insurer to make a fair settlement offer that covers the victim's medical expenses and other losses. An attorney may also be able to locate personal assets belonging to a negligent driver that could be subject to a lawsuit.

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