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'It's not soon enough' | Congress to mandate new car technology to prevent drunk driving

It would force carmakers to install monitoring systems to stop intoxicated drivers.

BEAUMONT, Texas — Congress is mandating new car technology to put the brakes on drunk driving. They’re pressing automakers to help keep people on the road safe.

Southeast Texans are no stranger to this heartbreak. Over the last few yeas, drunk drivers or suspected drunk drivers have taken the lives of Clyde Thompson, Tonysha Smith, Robert Jackson, Jillian Blanchard, Officer Sheena Yarborough Powell, Landon slaughter, and more.

Some of those families and activists are dedicated to preventing similar actions.

One Southeast Texas activist said she's worked with many families forever altered by drunk driving, and seeing their pain makes this new legislation all that more meaningful.

"It's the most horrible thing that could ever happen in life. You're never supposed to bury your child," Jacob Blanchard said.

Police said Jacob Blanchard's daughter, Jillian Blanchard, was killed when she was hit head-on by a pickup truck driven by Jerrod Lee Watkins last year in Bridge City.

RELATED: Orange County man indicted on another count of intoxication manslaughter in pair of 2020 Bridge City hit-and-run wrecks

RELATED: Family of man killed in 2020 hit-and-run still waiting for answers following Bridge City Police chief’s resignation

Watkins was later charged with intoxication manslaughter in Jillian Blanchard’s death.

When Jacob Blanchard heard the news of Lamar University students Clyde Thompson and Tonysha Smith both killed in a suspected drunk-driving accident, it brought back the pain of losing Jillian Blanchard.

RELATED: Family, friends remembering 2 Lamar University students killed in head-on crash

"It's senseless,” Jacob Blanchard said. “There's programs out there that can pick you up. You can Uber. You can call a taxi. There's no reason to ever drive while intoxicated."

Jacob Blanchard believes a new requirement passed by Congress will help. It would force carmakers to install monitoring systems to stop intoxicated drivers.

"This new technology, as soon as they put it in cars, they're gonna have the technology to read eyes, to read body language and the car will actually not move,” Jacob Blanchard said.

Infrared cameras could monitor driver behavior and look for signs of impairment or drowsiness.

The technology could slow down the car and pull it off the road.

"This will truly bring us...it's a step in bringing us to an age of no more victims," said Casie Harris with Moms Against Drunk Driving.

Harris lost her brother Randy in a drunk-driving accident in 2011.

Harris said last year there were 963 alcohol-related auto fatalities in Texas. That's roughly one death every nine hours.

"We're so excited to have that technology out there, have the auto industry behind us," Harris said.

While Jacob Blanchard calls the new technology a positive step, he admits it's not a cure.

"Waiting 'til 2026 is not, it's not soon enough when 10,000 people a year are getting killed by drunk drivers," Jacob Blanchard said.

The technology requirement is part of the infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden is expected to sign next week.

RELATED: New car tech to stop drunk drivers required under infrastructure bill

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