The "unacceptable" DWI arrest and fatality rates on Long Island have inspired a bipartisan effort to expedite funding for anti-DWI technology in cars. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) paired with MADD representatives Monday at the Nassau County Police second precinct in Woodbury to push Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to spend $10.5 million on developing technology that could become as standard as airbags.
"This is not hard to do, there's no need to bureaucratize this," said Israel, commenting on how rare it was to be able to call the effort truly bipartisan.
Newer and more accurate technology is being developed by Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) for placement in cars. The DADDS system is able to calculate blood alcohol levels in two ways – a new touch-based system and a more advanced version of today’s breath-based systems. The $10.5 million in the project's research would be provided under the Surface Transportation bill, passed by Congress Friday.
"The money is there," assured Israel, saying his basic message to LaHood is to "Just do it."
While the Fourth of July holiday is high season for DWI arrests -- there were over 100 on Long Island in 2011, according to Newsday -- recent events have inspired the push to expedite the money, according to Israel.
"Just in the past few weeks, we've have two fatalities and I learned that there were literally dozens of drunk driving fatalities just in the past few months," said Israel. "That's an unacceptable number."
A , leading to an arrest for boating while intoxicated. Four days later, collided with a Lindenhurst teen's car, killing her. In Syosset, a man was arrested for .
"This could be the greatest invention since airbags in terms of saving lives," said Tom McCoy, executive director of MADD Long Island.
Over 10,000 people died in drunk driving accidents in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but only 2 percent of drunk drivers are caught in the act. While national DWI fatality rates have been dropping, according to The Century Council, a fatality rate of zero is the ultimate goal. The proposed technology will make it virtually impossible to drive while intoxicated.
The first round of funding for DADDS began four years ago, said McCoy. Should this second round of money come through, he said a prototype vehicle could be developed for the road as early as 2013. Funding would not only keep the momentum of the project, but would also insure the success of the technology as a feature on future car models.
"No American is going to buy a car that might have a false positive," McCoy said. "It has to be perfect."