Dingell anti-drunk driving effort shows how sausage is made in Washington

Washington Wednesday: When a standalone four-page bill stalled twice, Dingell attached it to a 1,039-page infrastructure bill

By the end of the 2020s, or thereabouts, drivers of new vehicles may have to prove they’re not drunk if they want to start their cars. And it would be a representative from Michigan, Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, who led the push.

In January 2019, a family of five from Dearborn, the Abbas family, was killed in a wrong-way crash in Kentucky. Joey Lee Bailey, age 41, was the driver of the other car. He was many times over the legal limit for alcohol, authorities said. Bailey died in the crash as well.

Soon after, Dingell, the Abbas family’s representative in Congress, took up the anti-drunk driving crusade in their honor. (At the time, Dingell hailed from Dearborn. She moved to Ann Arbor due to post-2020 redistricting.) In September 2019, she introduced the Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate Drunk Driving Act, House Bill 4354

The bill would “require the Secretary of Transportation to prescribe a motor vehicle safety standard requiring that passenger motor vehicles be equipped with advanced drunk driving prevention technology.” It would start a five-year rule-making process and allow another two to three years for “manufacturing compliance.”

The bill went nowhere.

But in March 2021, Dingell presented the bill again.

The HALT Act was just four pages, a rarity for a Congress that just passed a 4,155-page Omnibus bill to fund the government for most of 2023. Its language is straightforward and simple.

As a standalone bill, that second effort stalled too.

But it got new life, and became law, as part of larger package, House Bill 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Public Act 117-58 runs 1,039 pages. The Dingell bill appears on page 403.

But what passed in House Bill 3684 is different from what Dingell submitted. It allows an ultimate out from implementation.

A portion of the relevant section reads:

If the Federal motor vehicle safety standard required by subsection (c) has not been finalized by the date that is 10 years after the date of enactment of this Act, [the secretary of transportation] shall submit to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representative a report describing —

  • (A) the reasons why the Federal motor vehicle safety standard has not been finalized;
  • (B) the barriers to finalizing the Federal motor vehicle safety standard; and
  • (C) recommendations to Congress to facilitate the Federal motor vehicle safety standard.

The Dingell effort hoped to regulate drunk driving out of existence, by treating drivers as guilty of drunk driving until proven innocent.

The bill that passed creates a paperwork regime that may or may not ever demand manufacturers to install anti-drunk driving technology.

In Michigan, ignition interlocks — which require an appropriate blood-alcohol reading to operate a vehicle — “are required for first-time DUI offenders convicted with a BAC of 0.17 or above,” per the National Conference of State Legislatures. There is no blanket requirement for all drivers, however.

Dingell’s office did not return requests for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.