Amid the 2,702 - page bipartisan infrastructure plan that could get a vote by the week's end is a series of safety requirements for vehicles to travel on all the new and improved roads. The feds are putting in order to make drunk driving more difficult. Requiring automakers to install technology in new cars to prevent drunk driving that could take the form of passive monitors for drivers breath, eye scans to check focus or even infrared touch tests on ignition buttons with these technologies installed?
The mandate could all but eliminate the one-third of roadway-related deaths involved in impaired drivers in the U.S. According to the government's own estimates, drunk driving accounts for one death every 52 minutes. Congress' proposal is a major public-health move that basically says lawmakers are fine paying for the new roadways, but in exchange they want some safeguards that those new lanes won't be packed with loaded drivers.
The safety provisions in the organization don't stop at in-car breathalyzers. On top of the anti-impaired driver tech, the spending plan requires rear guards for semi-trucks to protect passenger vehicles who may rear-end them, an in-car reminder every time the engine stops for drivers to check their seats lest they forget their kids in a hot car and a study about whether federal crash test dummies accurately measure the impacts on women, the elderly and young.
For those outside of Washington, the inclusion of new car safety requirements may seem far afield from the infrastructure deal's stated goal of strengthening roads and bridges, being an electric rail to rural communities and repairing the grid. But unequivocal pieces of legislation like this often provide homes for unrelated nuggets that lawmakers have been trying to find a runway for years. For instance, fixes to Obamacare in 2010 carried a wholly federal tweak to student loans, the REAL ID requirement for drivers' licenses got used to pay for abortions in 2005 tacked onto a supplemental spending plan and the annual mega-spending bill typically carried a ban on US Medicaid dollars being used to pay for abortions.
And the car safety measures aren't the only potentially extraneous provisions in the half-billion new spending. In the package are a $140 million a rare earth demonstration facility to highlight mining's fruits, a new clearinghouse for researchers to have access to the full spectrum of marijuana products on the market and a potentially embarrassing-to president Joe Biden report on the number of jobs lost over 10 years because he canceled a permit for the $9 billion Keystone XL pipeline. None of these were likely to get sufficient support as regular measures but when embedded within a lengthy bill that has something for everybody, they're simply the economic — or political costs of win.
In the case of the breathalyzer or its equivalent, Rep. Debbie Dingell has been pushing for years to set criteria for automakers to add screenings for impaired drivers. The idea for tech-based screenings had its own backers in Washington, namely Democratic Sen. Rick Scott of Florida and Republican Sen. Tom Udall of Florida who are among the strongest voice advocates against drunk driving in Florida
Some states already require drivers with DUI convictions to use this technology before they get behind the wheel. The universal use of it adds another layer to daily checks, but Americans in exchange received some measure of security that those sharing the road aren't drunk.
From Biden's desk to his - and in some cases, his hands are still on him. If approved, the manufacturers of the wide-area anti-drunk driving tech would be selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation within the next three years and automakers would need another two years to start using it on new vehicles. The provision says that if Congress wants to change the regulations for transportation bureaucrats within 10 years and must then explain why not, They can't agree on all the details of the new regulations within 10 years.
In other words, Congress is giving the DOT an off-ramp that will let Automakers decide the systems are simply unworkable or too costly. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously said a President doesn't have the power for a line-item veto in a bill but the slow-walk of an administrative state can do the dirty work. It doesn't seem very likely that Congress would start moving down this path if it wasn't convinced there exists at least some viable tech to meet its mandate. It's not as if Republicans working on this bill want to be labelled part of the so-called "Nanny State".
Who else can make you keep up the pressure? Lobbyists for the groups that stand to make money on this provision. There are plenty of them. Ride-share companies like Uber, insurance firms and tech companies could see their profits grow as it becomes all but impossible to get behind the wheel after a few drinks. Even in actions that make good sense on policy, the political money is often what pushes things over the finish line.