Get Caught Up: Drunk driving detection systems mandatory in new cars by 2026 in honor of Abbas family

Grief, anger over loss of Abbas family leads to a new law

A family of five from Northville was killed by a drunk driver and the sister of one of the victims decided to make meaningful change.

When a family of five from Northville was killed by a drunk driver, the sister of one of the victims decided to effect meaningful change in their honor.

Get Caught Up” is ClickOnDetroit’s Saturday news review to help readers catch up on the biggest stories of the week.

In January 2019, the Abbas family, from Northville with ties to Dearborn, was traveling on I-75 in Lexington, Kentucky. The family of five was returning to Michigan from a trip to Florida when they were struck head-on by a wrong-way driver.

Issam Abbas, 42, Rima Abbas, 38, and their children Ali Abbas, 14, Isabella Abbas, 13 and Giselle Abbas, 7, were all killed in the crash. The wrong-way driver, a 41-year-old Kentucky man, was believed to be under the influence at the time of the crash. He was also killed.

Rima Abbas’ sister, Rana Abbas Taylor, has been working with Congress to pass legislation to ensure that no other family goes through such a tragedy.

New law for drunk driving detection systems

Michigan U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI, 12) introduced legislation in 2019 to change the drunk driving laws.

Now, under the recently-passed national infrastructure bill, there is a new law that automakers must comply with in an effort to stop drunk driving. The legislation requires drunk driving prevention technology to be installed as safety equipment in new cars by 2026.

Supporters of the bipartisan legislation believe that drunk driving detection systems in vehicles will save thousands of lives each year.

Technology timeline

With the bill officially law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) must now establish a standard for what impaired driving safety equipment would look like in new vehicles. This rulemaking process will start in the coming weeks, and the standard must be set within the next three years.

NHTSA will evaluate technologies that may include:

  • Driving performance monitoring systems that monitor the vehicle movement using cameras and sensors that are outside the vehicle, such as lane departure warning and attention assist;
  • Systems that monitor the driver’s head and eyes, typically using a camera or other sensors that are inside the vehicle; or
  • Alcohol detection systems that use sensors to determine whether a driver is drunk and then prevent the vehicle from moving.

Automakers will be given 2-3 years to implement the safety standard, once established. New cars equipped with the NHTSA-directed technology could start rolling off the assembly line in 2026-2027.

From July: Drunk driving crackdown bill in honor of Abbas family advances in US Congress

Previously introduced as the “HALT Act” by Rep. Dingell, it was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support this past summer.

“I’m very pleased that we were able to get it through,” Dingell said. “I know Senator Lujan is very committed and I think this has a good chance of becoming law.”

The bill mandates ways to detect drunk drivers in vehicles with pre-existing technology -- like monitoring erratic speed or lane changes, or using more advanced systems that can detect alcohol through infrared sensors.

For Abbas Taylor, who has become the face and voice for her family and the families of hundreds of others, she said the bill’s passage has brought her hard work into stark relief.

“It’s still really emotional,” Abbas Taylor said. “It’s surreal, but there’s just this feeling of peace that comes with it. They’ve left it as part of their legacy and it’s pretty cool. Future victims will never know the work that went into lives saved.”

She pointed to a new study that showed that drunk driving fatalities were up in 2020, killing more than 10,000 people. And that’s with fewer people on the road.

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