Letter: Improve drunken driving technology

The Detroit News
Drunken driving is still the leading cause of highway deaths with nearly 11,000 fatalities a year.

At a recent congressional hearing, I challenged the auto industry to take action to accelerate the development and installation of exciting technology that will prevent a drunken driver from operating a vehicle. 

The focus of the hearing was a joint industry-government research and development program known as DADSS, Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, which began in 2008 after being conceived at a Mothers Against Drunk Driving technology conference two years earlier. 

After 10 years of work, there are indications the program has matured to the point that it needs to be moved out of the current labs and into the hands of industry experts who know how to integrate vehicle technology into cars and sell them to the public. 

I come to this discussion in my new position as National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and as a victim of drunken driving. My 16-year-old daughter, Helen Marie, was killed by a drunken driver in 2000 while rollerblading near our home. Along with thousands of other victims, I am dedicated to the elimination of drunken driving. 

In this regard, I applaud the efforts of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, whose leadership includes the promotion of legislation to advance current interlock technology. Dingell’s commitment is in the name of five members of the Abbas family of Northville who were killed in January by a wrong-way driver with a blood alcohol content of .306, nearly four times the national standard of .08.

We pledge to continue to work with Dingell and her colleagues who share our goal of no more victims of drunken driving. 

We at MADD have faith in the auto industry’s ability to help achieve our goal. These companies are engaged in developing autonomous vehicles — which we also support — while continuing to deploy safety systems like automatic braking, forward-collision avoidance, lane departure warning and air bag protection in several seating positions. It makes sense to add drunken driving prevention systems to the priority list. 

Drunken driving is still the leading cause of highway deaths with nearly 11,000 fatalities a year. Technology like DADSS can reduce that total by 7,000 when fully deployed. Let’s make the investments and apply the industry’s talent to making this happen.

Safety is not optional.

Helen Witty

national president

Mothers Against Drunk Driving