Dingell bill aims to curb drunken driving in memory of Abbas family

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
The Abbas family.

Washington — After a fatal crash killed five members of a Northville family last weekend, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell is introducing a bill to require that new cars be equipped with ignition interlock devices to prevent intoxicated driving. 

The in-vehicle devices measure a driver's blood alcohol before they may start the car, and are already mandated in some states for those convicted of driving under the influence.

"If we could keep one person from dying on the roads, and make people think twice before getting behind the wheel when they shouldn’t — even when they are buzzed and think they’ll be OK — then won’t we have been successful?” Dingell said Thursday, speaking about the bill on the House floor. 

"I know some will say this is too much of a burden. 'It won’t work. Why should we have to do that?' I’m going to look them in the eye and tell them why no community should ever have to feel what our community is feeling this week."

The Abbas family of Issam and Rima Abbas and their three children — Ali, Isabella and Giselle — were killed on a Kentucky highway early Sunday while traveling home from a vacation in Florida.

Also killed was Joey Lee Bailey, who drove a pickup the wrong way on the interstate before he hit the Abbas family's sport-utility vehicle. Authorities suspect he was drunk but are awaiting the results of toxicology tests.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn

“Nothing will bring back the Abbas family. But their lives were too important to forget," said Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat.

"Our community will deeply miss them, but we need to make sure that their death is not in vain. We are dedicated to their memories and others we know to try to prevent another life being lost this way senselessly.”

Rima's sister, Rana Abbas Taylor, told The Detroit News Thursday her family is grateful for Dingell’s remarks as they try to find closure.

“As painful as this horrific tragedy has been, it brings us peace and hope that positive action is being taken to help prevent tragedies like this from ever touching another family,” Taylor said. “We are forever indebted for Congresswoman Dingell’s support and action during a time that has paralyzed us.”

Taylor said the family hopes the bill will carry on their memory and legacy.

“When we broke the news of the Abbas Act to my parents yesterday evening, my father kept repeating ‘If only we can save one life.’ We are comforted by this news and hope that legislators across the country and car manufacturers in our own back yard will support this legislation and allow this bill to be our family’s legacy,” she said.

Dingell said elders from the community approached her in tears at a memorial service for the family Monday, asking why Congress hasn't done something to stop drunken driving.

And a young classmate of one of the Abbas children asked Dingell why lawmakers hadn't required technology that would "save lives," she said. 

"And I had no good answer," Dingell said. 

The congresswoman said she will work with the auto industry and bipartisan colleagues to enact the legislation. 

"I talked to Ford right away. They're helping me," Dingell said in an interview, noting the automaker is part of the Dearborn community where Issam and Rima Abbas grew up. 

Dingell said she wants the U.S. Department of Transportation to go through the rule-making process and produce a new interlock standard for automakers within a year.

“Rep. Dingell is passionate about cars and passionate about safety. And this topic is one that warrants attention and creativity,” said Gloria Bergquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “We look forward to working with her to find solutions.”

All 50 states have some version of an ignition-interlock law, and 29 have enacted mandatory ignition-interlock measures for all drunk-driving offenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Michigan requires interlocks for first-time DUI offenders convicted with blood-alcohol levels of 0.17 or higher.

Michigan also requires an interlock device for DUI offenders who are issued restricted drivers’ licenses after having had their license revoked for any drunk-driving offense.


Mothers Against Drunk Driving asked Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Thursday to push for a new law that would require ignition interlocks for all drunk drivers in Michigan after the first offense.