On Friday, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, mirroring an infrastructure bill passed by the Senate earlier this year. This is one of a pair of major policy initiatives from the Biden administration and congressional Democrats—the other being the Build Back Better Act, which (hopefully) includes, among other things, expanded subsidies for electric cars and bikes but which is still being obstructed by special interests in the Senate.
This bill should be signed by US President Joe Biden once Congress gets done with a week’s holiday. Although it is very much scaled back from earlier proposals, it still includes $550 billion of new spending. Much of it is transport-related, including $40 billion to repair, replace, and rehabilitate bridges, $39 billion for mass transit modernization and expansion, and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail.
The infrastructure bill also includes plenty of safety-related sections—no bad thing considering the ever-worsening death toll on US roads each year.
Drunk driving sensors for all new vehicles
For example, Congress has determined that about a third of US traffic fatalities are due to alcoholic impairment, and it cites data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that nearly 10,000 lives could be saved annually with the introduction of advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology.
As a result, within three years, new cars will have to be fitted with advanced drunk driving detection systems. NHTSA and an industry consortium (the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety) have worked with a Swedish sensor company called Sensor to develop a new alcohol breath sensor.
The sensor was ready for fleet testing this year, with plans to roll it out for all vehicles under an open license in 2024. The research program that developed the breath sensor is also working on an infrared-based touch sensor that should be available for new vehicles the following year.
More safety information for consumers
Within the next year, the bill requires updates to the government’s New Car Assessment Program (or NCAP), which has been crash-testing new cars since 1979. NCAP has received justifiable criticism for being slow to respond to new technologies but will now be required to create a 10-year roadmap to stay up to date with the rapidly changing automotive landscape.
Among the things NCAP will be required to test are advanced crash-avoidance technologies like forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, technologies that will have to conform to new performance standards yet to be developed by the US Department of Transportation.
DOT has also been given a year to study technology that could increase safety for vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians in order to be able to rate such tech for consumers. And a separate requirement of the bill will see DOT update federal crash data collection to include information on whether electric scooters and bicycles are involved in a crash.