Lexington woman fighting hard for technology to stop drunk driving – Spectrum News 1

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — A Kentucky woman who’s been fighting to end drunk driving since she was a child says a world in which cars cannot start for impaired drivers is coming.
Almost losing her own life drives Alex Otte. A Lexington native, Otte was just a 13-year-old girl sitting on her dad’s jet ski on Herrington Lake when her life changed. It was July 2, 2010.
“I was run over at about 60 miles per hour,’’ she said. “My parents got me out of the water and were told to say goodbye before I was loaded into the helicopter.”
Otte said she doesn’t remember much, besides what she was told when she eventually woke up.
“The boat hit me from the side, went up over the jet ski. I landed face down on the water, and the boat landed on top of my body. So I sustained severe life-threatening and lifelong injuries from head to toe, including a traumatic brain injury, a broken neck, and the loss of my right leg, as well as many other things,” she said. “The man who was driving the boat happened to be drunk, as we found out later. And I knew then that I wanted to be the last little girl this would ever happen to.”
12 years later, she’s the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the youngest by far the organization has had, and the first who isn’t a mother herself.
That hasn’t stopped her from pushing for change, just as her injuries haven’t stopped her from living her life. She continues to live in Lexington, and graduated from UK in 2018.
“My dad let me know that everything that had happened that day, and everything that had happened up until that point, was the choice of the man that ran me over. And everything that would come after would be my choice. No one would blame me if I decided never to get out of bed. No one would blame me for being angry. But it was up to me to choose what happens next,” Otte said.
During her time with MADD, Otte has been a part of getting ignition interlock laws passed in Kentucky. Those laws put devices in the cars of Kentuckians convicted of driving under the influence.
Drivers must blow into the device, and be under the legal limit for alcohol, for their car to start.
On Nov. 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a new law that will make passive drunk driving detection technology standard in all new vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has three years to look at all available technologies. It’s something MADD had been working on for several years.
After the three-year timetable NHTSA has to select the technology, car companies have two to three years to put the tech in all new cars.
“So we expect cars to be rolling off the lot by model year 2027 with impaired driving prevention technology as standard as seat belts and air bags,” Otte said.
It could work through a touch system, or a system that passively analyzes the driver’s breath.
Like the ignition interlocks, if drivers are over the legal limit, their car won’t start. Systems that detect impaired driving through driver performance already exist in cars today.
“We have changed the way that cars are made, effectively. And so that’s incredible, but it’s also bittersweet, knowing that so much of this technology would have prevented so many stories of people that I know, so many things happening to their loved ones, or to them,” Otte said.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which makes recommendations based on investigating crashes, recently called for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to mandate this technology be included in all vehicles.
“We think it could prevent a number of the crashes. We have 32 people dying a day. I know a lot of people will think of this as government intrusion. But the reality is, if you think about those 32 people dying, and all of the people, their relatives, their friends, who are losing a loved one, I think it’s worth the extra protection,” said Robert Molloy, Director of the Office of Highway Safety for NTSB. “The solution comes from technology. Something that could prevent the vehicle from operating if someone is impaired.”
According to MADD, over 12,000 people are killed—and over 300,000 are injured—by drunk driving every year. And the number of deaths has gone up in the last two years.
Otte said the average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before getting caught for the first time. Relative to other states, Kentucky is “not doing well.”
“Kentucky was high on the list for rate of increase in drunk driving incidents and fatalities over the last two years, which is really devastating in that not only is it still happening here, and it’s still happening to other people, it’s getting worse here, and comparatively to other states in the country, it’s getting a lot worse,” she said.
According to the NTSB, in 2020, 199 people died in alcohol-related crashes in Kentucky. That was up 33% from 150 people in 2019.
“That move from 150 to 199 over the year is something to be concerned about,” Molloy said.
On the bright side, Otte said, Kentucky is one of 34 states, along with Washington, D.C., to have ignition interlock laws.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates the new impaired driving detection technology will save over 9,400 lives per year.
Otte said she feels closer than ever to her goal.
“I thought maybe we’d end drunk driving for my grandkids, or their grandkids, or something like that. With this technology, I do believe the end of drunk driving is in sight, and it is possible, and maybe we will see that in our lifetime,” she said. 
She wanted to be “the last little girl this would ever happen to.” She wasn’t, but stopping others from driving when they shouldn’t will continue to drive her.
Congress mandated manufacturers include this impairment detection technology within three years through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.


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