January 6, 2019 was the worst day of my life. It was the day I lost my family. And it happened in the most horrific of ways. My sister Rima, my brother-in-law Issam, my two nieces, Isabella and Giselle, and nephew Ali were driving on I-75 through Lexington, Kentucky, from a vacation in Florida, when a wrong-way drunk driver hit their SUV head-on, killing every one of them. Five incredible people; an entire family; MY family; gone in an instant.
The driver’s blood alcohol level was nearly four times the legal limit, yet he was still able to get in his vehicle and drive. I’ve learned since then that vehicle technology would have stopped the drunk driver and saved my family. I have worked alongside Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), other courageous victims and survivors and a champion from my home state of Michigan, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Senator Ben Ray Luján and many other lawmakers to make sure this technology is built into every new vehicle.
A proposal by Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie, who represents a community not far from the location where my family was killed in a state that has experienced a 21% increase in drunk driving deaths since 2019, would reverse all of the progress toward our goal of preventing other families from experiencing the devastating trauma caused by people who choose to drive while intoxicated.
In an amendment to a funding bill for the U.S. Department of Transportation that will be voted on early next week, Representative Massie seeks to cancel a provision in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directing the U.S. Department of Transportation to create a rule for automakers to integrate impaired driving prevention technology into new vehicles by November 15, 2024. The provision of the law is named the Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate (HALT) Drunk Driving Act in memory of my family.
I am offended and outraged that Congressman Massie would introduce his amendment. I was horrified to watch him mischaracterize the technology and its intent to fellow members of Congress during a hearing on Wednesday night.
Let’s be clear: The technology would only inconvenience drivers who are breaking the law by being illegally impaired. It is not a “kill switch” for law enforcement or the government to control our vehicles – a patently false conspiracy theory that has been debunked by multiple fact checkers. Another false narrative, that the car will stop in the middle of the road if the car thinks you’re just not a great driver, propagates dangerous misinformation that threatens the progress toward ending drunk and impaired driving.
Every day in America, 37 people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured by drunk driving crashes. A growing number of drivers in fatal and serious injury crashes are testing positive for drugs other than alcohol. And over the past few years, drunk driving deaths have skyrocketed from about 10,000 per year to more than 13,000. Impaired driving prevention technology, when fully implemented, would save 10,100 lives a year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
We have the solution. A law is in place that directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to evaluate, test and set a rule to implement this auto safety technology in new vehicles – through a similar process that brought us seatbelts, airbags and backup cameras. The rulemaking is the correct place to assess and question the development of this technology until it meets the HALT Act requirements, but if Rep. Massie’s amendment is passed, the process will come to a hard stop.
It is not wrong to question the boundaries of an auto safety standard. We all should be engaged on something this important that could impact each and every one of us – and the same is true for impaired driving, which I learned tragically can impact any one of us, anytime. For the sake of protecting all families and acknowledging the millions of victims and survivors like me, I urge Representative Massie and his fellow members of Congress to drop any attempt to block progress toward a future when technology can stop illegally impaired drivers from hurting and killing people.