By Brooke Williams
The Driven to Protect Initiative and Virginia DMV presented new alcohol detection technology at Wednesday’s highway safety summit.
WHITE PLAINS, NY – Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (Westchester/Rockland), the Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, today was joined by White Plains Mayor Tom Roach, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Westchester Chapter President Carole Sears, Director of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Bud Zaouk, recent Ossining HS graduate Ana Priego, and local law enforcement at the White Plains Public Safety Headquarters to urge responsible driving during Labor Day Weekend. Lowey also highlighted her legislation to increase federal investments in promising new technology called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) research program, and demonstrated the technology using a simulation vehicle at the event.
“Labor Day Weekend means celebration with family and friends, but also heightened instances of drinking and driving,” said Lowey. “I urge residents to drive responsibly during the long holiday weekend. I have made a priority during my time in Congress to reduce drunk driving. Since successfully passing legislation that enacted a maximum Blood Alcohol Content level of .08, I have continued to support investments in promising anti-drunk driving technologies to make them unobtrusive, reliable, and affordable. As Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, I will continue working to prevent drunk drivers from ever getting behind the wheel.”
According to available statistics compiled by New York State, 3,427 alcohol-related tickets were issued in Westchester County in 2013, down from 3,673 in 2012. In neighboring Rockland County, 1,374 alcohol-related traffic tickets were issued in in 2013, down from 1,444 in 2012. In 2013, Westchester County saw 359 total alcohol-related crashes, including 14 fatal accidents, while in the same year Rockland had 158 alcohol-related crashes with five of those proving fatal. The number of traffic accidents and fatalities often increases around holidays.
Lowey has introduced a bill that would increase the federal investment to $10 million for the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) research program, a public-private partnership between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and 17 automobile manufacturers. This advanced technology could be widely used to quickly determine whether a driver is drunk when he or she starts a car, and could potentially save more lives a year than airbags.
The event featured a demonstration vehicle cabin that is used to evaluate the DADSS sensors currently being researched: a touch-based and a breath-based system.
* The breath-based system measures the alcohol levels in a driver’s exhaled breath unobtrusively, rather than requiring the deep lung sample of standard breathalyzers. The system will be designed to take instantaneous readings as the driver breathes normally and to accurately and reliably distinguish between the driver’s breath and that of any passengers.
* The touch-based system measures blood alcohol levels under the skin’s surface by shining an infrared-light through the fingertip. This technology will be integrated into current vehicle controls, such as the start button or steering wheel, and take multiple, accurate readings in less than a second.
Attendees viewed early-stage prototypes of the DADSS technologies – housed inside a vehicle “buck”, which is a functioning car model without standard wheels. The prototype of the early-stage breath-based system sits atop the driver-side visor and will simulate a blood alcohol content reading via a small screen inside the vehicle dashboard. The mockup of the touch-based system is integrated with a prototype of the vehicle start button that will simulate a reading from the skin surface.
DADSS is supported by a broad coalition of organizations including the automotive industry, safety and children’s advocates, bipartisan leaders in Congress and government entities, and members of the medical community. It is also supported by members of the alcohol industry, including the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.
“Drive safely. Don’t drink and drive. It is said often but it bears repeating as we approach Labor Day, the traditional end of the summer season, when we know many people will be traveling,” said White Plains Mayor Tom Roach. “We have been successful in reducing incidents of drunk driving through this kind of repetitive messaging and through awareness-raising events such as this one held by Congresswoman Lowey. We must keep at it and utilize new technologies to help us even more in this effort.”
“MADD is proud to work with partners in the government and auto industry to support development of this life-saving technology that will lead us to No More Victims of drunk driving,” said Carole Sears, president of the Westchester chapter of MADD. “As we have seen with other safety features, we believe this technology will be extremely popular with new car customers once it becomes available.”
“So many young people are making healthy decisions, but alcohol and drug impaired driving remains a serious concern for youth and adults,” said Ana Priego, a recent Ossining graduate who was a leader in her local Youth to Youth club. “Student leadership groups empower young people to become part of the solution, and I’m glad Congresswoman Lowey has taken the lead in Congress in preventing impaired driving.”
Congresswoman Lowey has been a leader in enacting strong laws to keep unsafe drivers off the road. In 2000, Lowey successfully passed legislation requiring states to enact a maximum Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level of .08 as a condition of receiving federal transportation assistance, which prompted all 50 states and the District of Columbia to implement this commonsense policy. In July 2014, Lowey introduced Alisa’s Law, a bill that would encourage states to require the use of ignition interlock devices for a minimum of six months for all convicted drunk driving offenders. This type of approach has proven successful in New York since the state passed “Leandra’s Law” in 2010.