Brooklyn Heights

Should `Drowsy Driver’ alerts be required in all cars?

February 28, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Every year, there are over 1,000 traffic fatalities in New York state, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. The causes vary from speeding, drunk driving, intentional accidents, medical conditions, and falling asleep behind the wheel.  Lately, drowsy driving has become the focus many lawsuits and even criminal prosecution.

In 2011, the driver of a Chinatown bus en route from Connecticut to New York was reportedly too tired to drive. The impaired reflexes of the drowsy driver caused the bus to strike a guardrail killing fifteen people and severely injuring others.  Believing that the driver’s fatigue was to the level of criminality, prosecutors in the Bronx levied manslaughter and negligent homicide against the driver, Ophadell Williams.

While criminal prosecution for drowsy drivers is rare, the impact that fatigued drivers is very real. This past Friday, Martha Atwater, a Brooklyn Heights resident, was struck and killed by a car on Clinton Street near Atlantic Avenue. The driver allegedly lost control of his Honda Ridgeline due to either a medical condition or being too fatigued to drive.

Some in the Brooklyn Heights community are now looking to take a stand against drowsy drivers. A neighborhood attorney is seeking to champion the cause in hopes of pushing legislation that would require all vehicles to contain technology that alerts drivers if they are starting to doze off.

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“There is technology out there that can help prevent a significant amount of these fatalities,” the lawyer, who didn’t wish to be identified, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  Driver-alert technology is not new, and many car manufacturers present this as a luxury feature in some of their car models. Mercedes-Benz currently has technology that analyzes the driver’s driving style. If the driver’s movements do not match the profile, the car will send the driver an alert.  

Volvo also has similar technology where if the car is too close to other cars the computer assumes that the driver is dozing off and an alert goes off.

While the technology exists, the issue is whether you can require all drivers to purchase cars with this technology. “There was a time when seatbelts weren’t required or standard in vehicles,” the attorney noted. Currently, driver alert technology is an added feature and isn’t readily available in most economy cars.

Aware of the financial burden that such a requirement may place on New York drivers, the attorney suggested numerous ways to balance out the costs. “If we did a step-by-step approach, we could start with requiring cars driven by persons with disabilities to contain alert technology.”

Assuming that the technology would serve as an accommodation for the disabled driver, “the added alert system may be paid for through the American with Disabilities Act.”  

“Auto insurance companies may also be another avenue,” the lawyer noted. “Auto insurance providers could be reduce premiums for drivers whose cars possess alert technology.”

Regardless of how the cost is distributed, the proponent of this legislation insists that the technology must be required. “As drivers, we bear a responsibility to be safe behind the wheel. If I need glasses in order to drive, I am required to pay for my own glasses,” the attorney said.

To further the effort, the attorney has started lobbying politicians. Starting with State Senator Daniel Squadron (D-Downtown Brooklyn/Lower Manhattan), the attorney hopes to bring the idea to the forefront.

Squadron has been a longtime advocate of safe driving regulations. In 2010, Squadron supported Haley and Diego’s Law, which allows district attorneys to bring the charge of “careless driving” against motorists who irresponsibly injure pedestrians and cyclists.

Unsure where the efforts of the proposed legislation will lead, this attorney is not giving up the fight. “We need to take remedial and preventive action. Measures have to be taken. I know that my push for legislation is novel but, there has to be a first; there has to be a beginning. The reduction of deaths due to drivers falling asleep behind the wheel is worth it.”

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