Let’s admit it’s unlikely that our society will reach a point any time soon where everyone practises responsible consumption of alcohol and drugs as advocated by MADD Canada. And MADD Canada is realistic enough to understand that. That is why we are so excited and encouraged by certain recent developments in the United States – and to see that similar ones are moving forward in Canada, albeit they are at the embryonic stage here.
On August 10, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed a law that requires drunk-driving prevention technology as standard equipment in all new cars within 4 to 5 years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been directed to set the nationwide standard within three years for impaired driving safety equipment on all new vehicles, and automakers are then given two to three more years to implement it. New cars equipped with this technology could start rolling off the assembly line in 2026-2027. So just how does “technology” “prevent” drunk driving? Well, the technologies required already exist today, and in fact they have for some years. So this is not a pie-in-the-sky aspiration waiting for a magic tech bullet. The best and most effective ones are known as DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety), which use sensors to determine whether a driver is drunk and then to prevent the vehicle from moving. There are basically two types:
- sensors can be built into the steering wheel, where they measure the sweat on the surface of your skin and determine whether you are over the legal limit, or
- different sensors can sniff the ambient air in the area of the driver’s seat and determine whether the person sitting in that seat is over the limit.
The technology is not clunky – there is no blowing into a tube. It is seamless and you will forget it’s there in the normal course of events.
Americans strongly support this action. According to a nationwide poll, 9 out of 10 Americans said that integrating technology into a car’s electronics to prevent drunk driving is a good or a very good idea – 89% to be precise. As hard as it may be to fathom, there are still 11% who don’t think it is a great idea. Who are they?! But in any case, they are fortunately a tiny minority.
As MADD US President Alex Otte said: “Drunk driving threatens everyone.” MADD Canada agrees: you don’t need to be impaired yourself, or driving, or in a car, or intentionally anywhere near a car, to be killed or maimed by a drunk driver.
In Canada, MADD Canada has been actively lobbying federal politicians to introduce similar legislation in this country. What a travesty it would be if Canada did not have matching provisions, and car manufacturers saw an opening to shave a few bucks off the price of Canadian cars by dropping this technology in cars sold here. Fortunately, the fact that Canadian levels of public support are likely to be similar to those in the States should help politicians here make up their minds that this is a good bandwagon to jump on. MADD Canada, led by our Chief Executive Officer Steve Sullivan, is making that point in the corridors and committee rooms of Parliament.
Steve has visited MPs, Senators, and cabinet ministers, always accompanied by actual victims and survivors, who have come from every part of the country, to raise awareness of the possibilities and lobby for Canada to mirror the US initiative. In the latest of his visits, Steve spoke with Senator Don Plett, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate of Canada. Steve was accompanied by local Ottawa and Area Chapter members Lee-Ellen Carroll and Geoff Leckey, who, after Steve had set the stage, each told the story of the loved one they had lost and how the proposed legislation would have made a difference [see photo below]. Senator Plett was moved, and expressed his wholehearted support for the initiative, even going so far as to add that it would have the support of the entire Conservative caucus in the Senate.
You can help by signing the related petition that has been submitted to the House of Commons. The petition is open for signature until September 21, and the Government will respond to it when the House returns in the fall. There are already quite a few signatures, but the more the merrier.
The text of the petition as approved by the Clerk of the House of Commons reads:
Petition to the House of Commons
- Impaired driving kills hundreds of Canadians and injures thousands more every year;
- In 2021, there were nearly 78,500 federal charges and provincial sanctions for impaired driving;
- Impaired driving is estimated to cost society billions of dollars every year, between health care, law enforcement, courts, prisons, insurance, personal costs, and more;
- The HALT Act, named after the Abbas family who were killed by an impaired driver, was signed by U.S. President Joe Biden in November 2021 with bi-partisan support. It will require new cars and trucks to be equipped with advanced alcohol impaired driving prevention technology by 2026-2027; and
- Experts estimate technology could eliminate the majority of injuries and deaths caused by alcohol-impaired driving.
We, the undersigned citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada, to introduce legislation to require anti-impaired driving technology in new vehicles by 2026-2027.
The House of Commons petitions website is at https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Home/Index
- Go to “Search” and you can then either enter the number e-4421 or scroll down to it. The title is “Impaired Driving New technologies”. It’s really easy to find!