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Rep. Kathleen Rice introduces Three Bills to Combat Impaired and Distracted Driving

The bills will set new safety standards for U.S. auto manufacturers, standardize criminal penalties against impaired drivers traveling with children, and create a new education grant to support distracted driving prevention programs

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Garden, May 30, 2019 | comments

GARDEN CITY, NY – U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice (NY-04) today introduced a package of three bills aimed at combating impaired and distracted driving.  The End Drunk Driving Act will require that within 10 years, all new cars sold in the U.S. come equipped with advanced DWI-prevention technology; the Prevent Impaired Driving Child Endangerment Act will set national standards for criminal penalties against individuals who drive while intoxicated or impaired with a child passenger in the vehicle; and the Distracted Driving Education Act of 2019 will create a new education grant program for non-profit organizations working to combat distracted driving.

Rep. Rice made the announcement at the drunk driving victims memorial in Eisenhower Park, where she was joined by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Richard Mallow, Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – New York and Steve Chassman, Executive Director of Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence. Rep. Rice was also joined by Alisa McMorris, whose son Andrew was killed by a drunk driver nine months ago in Manorville while walking with a group of fellow boy scouts.

“My hope is that with these three bills, we can take a major step toward ending impaired and distracted driving in this country once and for all,” said Representative Kathleen Rice. “Taken together, nearly 15,000 were killed in 2018 because of an impaired or distracted driver – these are deadly and tragic epidemics that have claimed too many lives and destroyed too many families. It’s past time that we take action at the federal level to end this crisis. And the best way to do that is by strengthening our laws and enforcement strategies, leveraging preventative technology and investing in the educational tools that can help change people’s behavior. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart and I’m going to continue working hard to build support on both sides of the aisle and get these bills passed.”

“I applaud Congresswoman Kathleen Rice for putting the safety of every American first with her safe driving package of legislation,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. “With the passage of these three bills, we will ensure that lives will be saved not only across Nassau County but, across this great nation.  I want to thank Congresswoman Rice for her commitment and dedication to the health and safety of all people and for doing her part to eradicate impaired and distracted driving.”

The End Drunk Driving Act will require that within 10 years, all new cars sold in the U.S. come equipped with advanced DWI-prevention technology that detects a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) and prevents the car from moving if the driver’s BAC is at or above the legal limit. The advanced technology is currently being developed through the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program, a research partnership between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), which represents 17 leading automobile manufacturers. In 2015, NHTSA  and ACTS unveiled prototypes of touch-based and breath-based technologies. The touch-based technology responds to the touch of a driver’s fingertip and uses infrared light to measure the driver’s BAC. Unlike a breathalyzer, the DADSS breath-based technology does not require a driver to breathe into a tube – a driver simply enters the vehicle and breathes normally, and sensors detect the driver’s BAC using infrared light. Rice’s legislation will require the technology to be installed in all new cars sold in the U.S. within 10 years of the bill’s enactment.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that requiring DWI-prevention technology in all new cars sold in the U.S. could prevent an estimated 85% of all drunk driving-related fatalities over 15 years, saving more than 59,000 lives. It could also prevent an estimated 1.25 million nonfatal drunk driving-related injuries over the same 15-year period, a reduction of 84-89%. The study also found that preventing these deaths and injuries would save nearly $343 billion over 15 years, and the cost of installing the technology would be recovered within the first three years.

The Prevent Impaired Driving Child Endangerment Act will set national standards for criminal penalties against individuals who drive while intoxicated or impaired with a child passenger in the vehicle. The legislation will compel every state in the country to adopt laws similar to New York State’s Leandra’s Law, which made it a felony offense for an individual to drive drunk or impaired with a child passenger in the vehicle. While most states have taken some action to crack down on those who commit this crime, Leandra’s Law in New York is the toughest and most comprehensive child endangerment law in the country.

The Prevent Impaired Driving Child Endangerment Act requires states to enact the following laws with regard to an individual who drives while intoxicated with a child passenger in the vehicle:

  • A law that provides that the individual can be charged with a felony subject to up to four years imprisonment;
  • A law that requires the individual, if convicted, to install and maintain an ignition interlock system on any car the individual owns or operates;
  • A law that suspends the individual’s state driver’s license during the course of prosecution, unless the individual installs and maintains an ignition interlock system;
  • A law that requires the individual, if convicted, to undergo an alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or mental health assessment and, if the assessment indicates the need for treatment, authorizes the appropriate court or monitoring agency to require the individual to undergo treatment as part of their sentence or as a condition for re-issuance of the individual’s driver’s license;
  • A law that requires authorities to file a report with the appropriate state register of child abuse if the individual is the parent, guardian, or custodian of the child passenger, or is in any way legally responsible for the child passenger.

The legislation also directs the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to withhold a certain percentage of federal funding from states that fail to comply with these requirements by the beginning of  FY 2021.

The third bill, the Distracted Driving Education Act of 2019, will authorize the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to award a total of $5 million in competitive grant funding to non-profit organizations working to educate the public and prevent distracted driving in communities across the country.

“MADD commends Rep. Rice and her leadership in the fight to eliminate drunk driving,” said MADD New York Executive Director Richard Mallow. “This legislation complements our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving which promotes strong law enforcement, ignition interlocks and advanced technologies as a way to ultimately eliminate drunk driving.”

“We lose 40,000 people each year on our roadways, in large part because of distracted and impaired drivers,” said Nick Smith, interim president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Representative Rice’s bills include important countermeasures that are proven to prevent crashes and save lives. We applaud her for her continued leadership and dedication to making our roadways safer.”

“In 2016, more than 50 percent of the children killed in alcohol-impaired crashes were passengers in vehicles driven by impaired drivers,” said Dr. Ben Nordstrom, Executive Director of Responsibility.org. “Many DUI offenders have undiagnosed and untreated mental health disorders in addition to substance use disorders. Congresswoman Rice’s legislation will protect children and the public by preventing impaired driving while also identifying and treating underlying causes of offending.  This gives the best chance at changing offender behavior and saving lives.”

“I strongly support and endorse the Distracted Driving Education Act,” said Rocco Panetta, Founder of the Texting Awareness Foundation. “There is no question that educating young drivers to the dangers of texting and driving is imperative to saving lives”

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