WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) discussed efforts to prevent drunk driving and reduce the number of needless fatalities tied to alcohol-related car accidents during a news conference call today. Following the call, Brown released a report—with county-by-county data—on drunk driving fatalities in Ohio over the past five years.
“This is about stopping drunk driving before it starts,” Brown said. “How many Ohio lives will be lost until our nation develops and utilizes technology to prevent drunk driving? The ROADS SAFE Act will promote the development of common-sense technology that would stop drunk drivers from putting the lives of others at risk. By preventing drunk drivers from getting on the road in the first place, we can help save lives and give parents and law enforcement a new, powerful tool to combat drunk driving.”
Brown was joined by Doug Scoles, the executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Ohio who discussed the need for new legislation and Steve Westcott, an Oxford Township firefighter who, while off-duty and on his way to teach fire and EMS classes, recently helped Erie County law enforcement officials apprehend a nine-time drunk driver.
"MADD strongly supports the ROADS SAFE Act, which will provide funding for research to support the DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety) program to turn "cars in to the cure" to drunk driving," Scoles said. "Just like air bags and seat belts, this technology promises to keep American families safer on our roadways, and would save an estimated 8,000 lives a year that would otherwise be lost in drunk driving crashes."
“I’ve been on the scene of too many alcohol-related car crashes and seen the devastation of too many families who have lost a loved one due to a drunk driver,” said firefighter Steve Westcott.
“There’s only so much that law enforcement can do to prevent drunk driving, which is why a bill like ROADS SAFE is so important. We can save more lives by keeping these drunk drivers—many of whom are repeat offenders—off the road in the first place, and I’m glad that Senator Brown is taking the lead on this very important issue.”
Following the conference call, Brown released a county-by-county report on the number of drunk driving fatalities in Ohio between 2005 and 2009. In 2009 alone, there were 324 alcohol impaired driving fatalities and nearly 19,000 drivers were arrested for DUI in 2009.
The legislation, known as the ROADS SAFE Act, would support the creation of a partnership between anti-drunk driving advocates like MADD, large car companies, and the federal government to design devices that prevent intoxicated people from ever turning on the car. Brown decided to sign onto the bill after receiving dozens of letters and calls from anti-drunk driving advocates in Ohio, many of which contained personal stories of families affected by drunk driving.
The bill would authorize $12 million in annual funding for five years for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program to develop in-vehicle technology to prevent drunk driving. The funding would be provided through money that the federal government has already appropriated for road safety initiatives, rendering the bill cost-neutral.
Existing devices, such as ignition locks, can be expensive and obtrusive. One goal of new technology developed as a result of the ROADS SAFE Act is to make the device smaller and less noticeable, so that parents could choose to install it in the car of their high school- or college-age child. This legislation does not require this technology to be installed in any car, but would give families and law enforcement a new means of combating drunk driving.
For instance, a technology that could determine a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) from sensors on the steering wheel or engine start button could be explored under ROADS SAFE. Such sensors would prevent the car from starting—preventing drunk drivers from getting on the road in the first place and helping to save lives.
Previous versions of the bill garnered strong bipartisan support and were endorsed by a wide range of organizations, including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Century Council, the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), General Motors, the Governors Highway Safety Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the National Safety Council, Nationwide Insurance, and Safe Kids USA.