WASHINGTON — Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Thursday he'll push for legislation to boost alcohol-detection technology in cars, which he said could greatly reduce drunk driving — especially for repeat offenders.
"Technology like this is potentially breathtaking in terms of saving lives," Mr. Schumer said in a conference call with New York reporters.
The bill would create a consortium of anti-drunken-driving groups, car companies and the federal government to study more effective ways of detecting alcohol on drivers and to make vehicles impossible to start once a certain level of alcohol is found. The bill calls for $12 million annually, for five years, and it has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, the senator said.
"Anybody who's opposed to this should be ashamed of themselves," Mr. Schumer said.
The American Beverage Institute criticized the legislation, saying the devices should be kept to vehicles of repeat drunken driving offenders and not be mandated in vehicles as standard equipment, although the legislation does not include such a mandate. It also argued that the devices could keep people from driving even if their blood alcohol level is less than the limit for drunken driving, such as after having a drink at a restaurant.
The ABI is a lobbying group representing restaurants.
Drunken drivers are responsible for hundreds of deaths in New York, including 133 in the north country from 2004 to 2008, Mr. Schumer's office reported. Yet only about 2 percent of drunken drivers are caught nationally, his office reported.
The lead senators on the legislation are Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Tom Udall, D-N.M. Mr. Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership, said he will co-sponsor it.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved similar legislation this week. The Senate Commerce Committee considers it next.
Although the proposal does not require the technology to be installed in vehicles, it does open the way to voluntary installation by either parents or car owners, as well as potential court orders by judges in drunken-driving cases, Mr. Schumer said.
Methods of testing a driver's alcohol could vary from breath detection to measuring blood alcohol content by touch — such as on a steering wheel or a start button, Mr. Schumer's office reported.
The technology could drastically reduce drunken driving, said Charles A. Hurley, chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who joined Mr. Schumer on the conference call.
"What a great day that would be for America," Mr. Hurley said.