U.S. Rep. Dingell pushes for mandatory interlocks to prevent drunk driving

Keith Laing
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Dingell (D-Dearborn)

Washington — U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell pushed Thursday for Congress to approve legislation that would require cars to be equipped with technology that would prevent them from being operated if the driver is intoxicated.

Speaking at a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing, Dingell invoked the deaths of the Abbas family of Northville, who were killed in January when their SUV was struck by a drunken driver who drove the wrong way on Interstate 75. 

"Drunk driving brings pain to families and communities across this country," the Dearborn Democrat said during Thursday's hearing. "Our community in Dearborn and in Michigan felt it only eight weeks ago. In January, the Abbas family, Itssam, Rima, Ali, Isabelle, and Giselle, were driving back from a family vacation in Florida when their car was struck head-on by a drunk driver. No one survived. Everyone in our community felt it. They were active, integral members of our community. 

"But what's sad is this story has been repeated for years, over and over again. And Congress need to step up and do something about it. Their deaths and the thousands just like them each year are avoidable and preventable. The technology exists to save lives." 

Dingell has introduced legislation known as the Abbas Stop Drunk Driving Act that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to create a new motor vehicle safety standard that would require cars and trucks to be equipped with an ignition-interlock device that would prevent a vehicle from being operated if the operator is intoxicated. 

Republicans on the panel raised the specter of drivers also being impaired by drugs noting that marijuana is now legal in 10 states, including Michigan. 

"Marijuana is the most common drug found in fatally injured drivers," said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, who is the top-ranking Republican on the subcommittee. "It increases drowsiness and decrease reaction speed, both of us which severely limit a driver's ability to operate a vehicle safely."  

Robert Strassburger, president and CEO of Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety Inc., which is developing the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety technology that will allow cars to test the blood-alcohol content levels of drivers by touch or breath, said it would be effective if it is offered voluntarily initially like other driver-assistance systems like automatic emergency-braking or lane-departure warnings. 

"DADDs technology holds the greatest promise and likely the fast pathway to reversing the drunk driving trends in the United States," he said. 

Safety advocates cheered Dingell for introducing the bill to require cars to be equipped with interlocking technology. 

"Like the Abbas family, I have a story," said Helen Witty, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, noting that her own daughter was killed in a 2000 crash involving a drunk driver. 

"I am here because my 16-year-old daughter is not. One day on a bright sunny June afternoon, she went rollerblading on a well-known route and didn't come home," Witty continued.

Joan Claybrook, board member for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said, "It's past time to address drunk driving with bold federal action to facilitate wider use of these proven technologies and enact of proven state laws and enhanced law enforcement." 


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing