Why can’t current technology prevent drunk driving?

Just before midnight on October 12th. On December 6, 2017 my daughter Katie Snyder Evans was killed when a speeding drunk driver from the opposite direction lost control, hit the center center line and went into the air , then crashed into Katie’s car, crushing her to death.

Katie is 37 years old. Just seven weeks before her death, she gave birth to twin daughters who were premature, and Katie was still in hospital the night of her death. In fact, Katie was on her way home from the hospital when she was killed.

After Katie’s death, a question has haunted me for a year: With so much safety technology and self-driving car systems out there, why doesn’t technology stop drunk driving? That drunk driver shouldn’t have stolen Katie from us: her husband, Jacob; her newborn twin daughters, Hannah and Sarah; her four young sons, Spencer, Travis, Nathaniel and Gideon; And me and my wife Claudia.

So, I asked a car expert. Through my role as executive director of the Shingo Institute at Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman College of Business, I have met many senior executives in the automotive industry as these companies use the Shingo model to drive excellence in their organizations. They confirmed the existence of technology that could stop drunks from driving.

If the technology had been installed, my daughter would be alive, as she should have been all those years ago. But in fact, last year Congress passed a bill requiring the technology to be used in cars.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes language directing NHTSA to initiate the rulemaking process and set final standards for passive impaired driving safety equipment on all new vehicles within three years. Automakers will have two to three years to implement safety standards. I worked closely with Mothers Against DUI to help make this new law a reality because no parent should lose a child to DUI.

Now, as we await NHTSA’s rulemaking process, I am deeply saddened to see more and more crashes like the one that took our Katie.

While the seven straight quarters of increases in traffic fatalities in the U.S. appeared to be reversed in the second quarter of last year, the overall picture remains unacceptable, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic fatalities are still much higher than they were a decade ago. As U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg put it, we are facing a “national crisis of death and serious injury.”

These are not just statistics. They are people – thousands of Katie who are precious to their loved ones.

NHTSA must act immediately under Congressional authorization to incorporate existing technology into vehicles. Three types of technologies already exist to eliminate drinking and driving:

1. Driving assistance system, which monitors vehicle movement through systems such as lane departure warning and collision assistance

2. A driver monitoring system that monitors the driver’s head and eyes, usually using cameras or other sensors

3. A passive alcohol detection system that uses sensors to determine if the driver is intoxicated and then stops the vehicle from moving.

Examples of existing systems from Volvo, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, and others abound.

I’m glad to see the NTSB’s recent strong statement in support of in-vehicle alcohol detection technology and the exploration of other technologies such as driver monitoring.

As NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said, “We need to immediately implement the technologies we have to save lives.”

In the United States, someone dies in a drunk driving accident every 45 minutes. One person is injured every 2 minutes.

There is no time to waste. You think it’s never going to happen to you – until it does.

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