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Biden’s infrastructure bill requires carmakers to build tech that won’t let you drive drunk

president joe biden with hand outstretched

A lot of the news coverage surrounding the infrastructure bill President Biden signed last week focused on the political bickering in the lead-up to its passage. But there are plenty of arguably worthwhile provisions in the bill that haven’t gotten near the attention they should. A good example of this is a mandate for carmakers in support of the fight against drunk driving.

There’s always a chance this provision ends up watered down in the real world or delayed. But here’s what’s going on. Basically, the bill calls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to prep final rules for what the technology should consist of over the next three years. After that, carmakers would have two more years to start putting the technology into production. However, the NHTSA, according to The Washinton Post, hasn’t always moved quickly when presented with new congressional deadlines. So, there’s an assumption that these timelines might crash headlong into circumstances that led to delays.

Biden infrastructure bill mandate for cars

Still, campaigners against drunk driving are positioning this as a big deal. And, in fact, the mandate builds on a foundation that already exists. Some states, for example, already require offenders to use a breathalyzer interlock for their car.

Another option, per The Post? “To rely on cameras that monitor drivers for signs they are impaired, building on systems that automakers are using to ensure people relying on driver assistance technologies don’t lose concentration.”

Certainly, this new mandate can’t come a moment too soon. Data from the NHTSA shows that more than 10,000 people died in car crashes in 2019 involving a driver impaired to some degree by alcohol. And a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that the technology mandated by the infrastructure bill could cut that number by 9,400 people a year. That would come once the technology is put into mainstream use, of course.

What else is in the bill

There’s some speculation that the anti-drunk driving tech could focus on a system that detects a distracted driver. However, that would seemingly be a camera-based system and could likely provoke privacy concerns. But again, rules for all of this are still coming. For now, the mandate is in place that says something eventually needs to be in place.

The new infrastructure bill, meanwhile, obviously doesn’t stop at drunk driving either — in terms of new technologies and systems that it mandates in automobiles. Automatic braking for cars and large trucks is eventually going to be a widespread requirement, for example, thanks to this bill.

And here are two additional items worth mentioning:

  • Sort of along the lines of a new system that identifies the presence of a drunk driver, the bill also requires something else. It’s an in-vehicle alert of some kind to prevent children from being stuck inside a car on a hot day.
  • Also, the bill set aside money for road design. It specifically seeks to put a priority on keeping pedestrians and cyclists safe, rather than focusing on cars.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.




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