The federal agency responsible for conducting independent crash investigations has recommended technologies in new vehicles to limit speeding and prevent impaired driving in a bid to reduce a growing number of related fatalities.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation for alcohol-impaired detection systems is on track for a requirement, after the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act gave the Department of Transport to develop a mandate for such functionality in new vehicles. However, the board’s recommendation to encourage intelligent speed-adaptive systems has yet to gain broader federal support and may face resistance from U.S. drivers accustomed to speed limits be enforced by law enforcement rather than the vehicle itself.
The NTSB’s recommendations – which cannot be implemented without adoption by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – specifically include the requirement that all new vehicles be equipped with “passive alcohol impairment detection systems, advanced driver monitoring systems or a combination of the two that would be able to prevent or limit driving the vehicle if it detects the driver being impaired by alcohol.
Reiterating a recommendation made in 2017, the NTSB also suggested NHTSA urge “vehicle manufacturers and consumers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation systems (ISAs) that would prevent speed-related crashes.”
Intelligent speed adaptation systems can range from a warning system that provides visual or audible alerts when a driver is speeding up to a system that electronically limits a vehicle’s speed. The NTSB did not specify what type of system should be adopted.
An investigation into a crash in California that killed nine people, including seven children, on New Year’s Day in 2021 led to Tuesday’s recommendations, according to the NTSB. Investigators, the agency said, “found that the driver of the SUV (involved in the crash) had a high level of alcohol intoxication and was traveling at excessive speed.”
NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said Tuesday that technologies “can prevent the tens of thousands of deaths from impaired driving and speeding-related crashes that we see in the United States each year.”
Thirty-two people die every day from alcohol-related crashes – more than 11,000 each year, according to NHTSA. He reported that the number of deaths increased by 5% in 2021.
There are a number of technologies aimed at preventing impaired driving that are being evaluated by the Department of Transportation, according to advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The department has had three years to develop a requirement that new vehicles have “advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology” under the Infrastructure Act, which was passed with bipartisan support last year.
NHTSA said in a statement Monday that it “has begun work to meet bipartisan Infrastructure Act requirements for developing rules regarding advanced impaired driving technology in vehicles.”
These technologies include cameras and sensors outside a vehicle that monitor driving performance, cameras and sensors inside a vehicle that monitor a driver’s head and eyes, and sensors of alcohol to determine if a driver is intoxicated and subsequently prevent the vehicle from moving.
The eventual settlement has raised privacy concerns and questions about whether systems would incorrectly classify some people, such as people with disabilities, as intoxicated.
Intelligent speed adaptation systems have gained ground in the European market, where they will be mandatory in all new cars sold there from July 2024. New cars will emit either an “acoustic cascade warning”, either a “cascading vibrating warning”, “haptic feedback via the accelerator pedal” or a “speed control function”, according to the European Commission. A driver can override the ISA system, according to the commission.
New York City also operates a fleet of urban vehicles with an ISA system in place. The city announced in August that 50 vehicles operated by city employees will have systems that set a maximum speed for the vehicle and “will also be adaptable based on the local speed limit.” The system has an active mode, which will automatically slow a vehicle, and a passive mode, which will alert a driver when speeding up.
The vehicles will be retrofitted and installed in vehicles from various city departments, and will also be tested on 14 new all-electric Ford Mach Es.
This story has been updated with comments from NHTSA.
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