The new law will require automakers to install anti-drink-driving technology; mother of man killed in crash says it will save lives

CHICAGO (CBS) — A new federal law will require all automakers to install technology that can detect drunk or impaired driving.

In 2021 alone, more than 1,300 people were killed on Illinois roads. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 47% of driving deaths in Illinois are alcohol-related.

A McHenry mother says the new technology would have saved her son’s life. CBS 2 investigator Megan Hickey uncovered her family’s history for years, as well as the loopholes she fought to fill.

In particular, Sheila Lockwood wants to close loopholes that allowed the drunk driver in her son’s case to keep his driver’s license. She now says her family is able to celebrate her son Austin’s memory with a change in the books.

The law requiring new technology to detect drunk drivers is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law in November.

Illinois State Police, U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have all been involved in efforts to pass the requirement.

The law does not specify what type of monitoring must be in place to detect impaired drivers, but does require technology that can monitor a driver and/or their blood alcohol level to detect impaired driving.

“The technology has been around for a while,” Illinois State Police Superintendent Brendan Kelly said, “and if anyone knows the story, there was a lot of resistance to seat belts. .There was a lot of air bag resistance.”

Lockwood told Hickey that she believed the technology would have saved her son’s life.

“The vehicle would not have rolled,” Lockwood said. “Absolutely, Austin would be there.”

His son Austin, 23, was killed in an accident in Three Lakes, Wisconsin on June 10, 2018. The 21-year-old driver, Eric Labahn of Mount Prospect, refused to take a blood alcohol test on site.

A test hours later put Labahn well over the legal limit, and he was charged with a drunk driving homicide. But he found a way to continue driving with a license.

According to the Illinois Secretary of State, Labahn surrendered his Illinois license shortly after the crash and moved to Wisconsin. This move made all the difference.

The law called for Wisconsin drivers who refused a blood alcohol test to get a one-year license suspension – but there was a problem. Labahn was first granted a hearing on her suspension, and she was suspended at the time because she was connected to an ongoing homicide case.

But a law that would have prevented Labahn from driving at all would have rendered all of that moot. And every day since the crash that killed Austin, his mother has been trying to make it harder for drunk drivers to get behind the wheel.

“I think he helps me, gives me strength,” Lockwood said in 2019. “I want to make him proud.”

The new law gives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just three years to develop rules that will require all new passenger vehicles manufactured in the future to be equipped with advanced drink-driving prevention technology and with weakened faculties.

“All vehicles must have this technology by 2026,” Lockwood said.

Schakowsky pointed out that the drink-driving prevention technology will be “passive,” meaning it won’t activate until an impairment is detected.

In a few months, Labahn will be released after a three-year prison sentence.

The sentence was too short for Lockwood, who has since helped successfully pass legislation that created a five-year minimum sentence in Wisconsin.

She also worked on efforts to bring all states into the driver’s license contract, which improves information sharing between states — the very loophole that allowed Labahn to drive legally for more than a year. after Austin’s death.

Although we are still a few years away from seeing impaired driving technology in all cars, Lockwood considers this a victory.

“No family should ever go through what we had to go through because the driver could live his life and we have to live that life without Austin,” Lockwood said.

Again, the law does not specify what type of monitoring should be included in all new cars. It’s something NHTSA and automakers will be working on for years to come.


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