MADD President attends infrastructure signing ceremony

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Posted at 10:52 PM, Nov 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-16 06:34:40-05

(LEX 18) — Hundreds of miles away from her home in Lexington, Alex Otte settled into her hotel in Washington D.C. and logged onto Zoom Monday night to speak with LEX 18 about the emotional afternoon she had just spent on the grounds of the White House.

"I was so thankful to be able to be there representing millions of victims and survivors from across the country," Otte said.

The University of Kentucky graduate is the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and was invited to the White House to witness President Joe Biden sign the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law.

In addition to the billions of dollars it invests in roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects, the legislation includes a provision that mandates that new cars come equipped with technology that can detect and stop drunk driving.

Otte told LEX 18 that the section initiates a rulemaking by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to set the standard, which she said could be implemented by 2026.

NHTSA is tasked with determining which technologies will be included in new cars. Otte said the potential options include driving performance monitoring systems, such as lane departure warnings that already exist in many vehicles, systems in mirrors that monitor a driver's head and eyes, and alcohol detection systems that use sensors to determine if a driver is drunk.

Overall, Otte said, the technology will be designed to look for signs of impairment.

"Obviously, our main goal is to end drunk driving," she said. "But we do know that many of these monitoring systems could have a huge impact on saving lives and preventing injuries in terms of drowsy driving, distracted driving, or drugged driving, as well."

Otte stressed that this would be passive technology.

"The sober driver will never even know it's there," Otte said.

The push for lifesaving technology in vehicles has been championed by Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who introduced the HALT (Honoring the Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate Drunk Driving) Act after five members of a Michigan family were killed by a drunk driver on I-75 in Lexington, while driving home from vacation in January 2019.

"There were more than 7,000 people that attended their funeral," Otte said. "[Congresswoman] Debbie Dingell being one of them. And she knew, when she returned to Washington, that something had to be done to stop this."

According to a 2020 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, when the chosen technology is implemented for all new cars, upwards of 9,000 lives could be saved per year.

For Otte, this journey has been highly personal. 11 years ago, she was badly injured by a drunken boater on Herrington Lake.

She suffered brain injuries, as well as a broken neck, lacerated liver, and facial fractures. She also needed a partial leg amputation.

"My crash was 11 years ago and I always said that I wanted to be the last little girl that it would ever happen to," Otte said. "I know 11 years later that I wasn't. And I always said I would fight for the day when there would be a last little girl and there would be no more victims of drunk driving, but I didn't believe that would occur in my lifetime."