It was 1992. Luján, D-N.M., recalls he was staying with his parents during a summer break from the University of New Mexico. He said he was about a half-mile from home, coming back from a basketball tournament game in his Toyota Celica, when he rounded a bend and was hit head-on by a drunk driver who had veered far into his lane. He said he remembers opening his eyes after the collision, the smoky car, adrenaline pumping through his veins, the disconcerting feeling of trying to figure out if he was OK. It’s not a story Luján, now 48, often tells publicly, despite the fact that he’s been in the public eye for 17 years, including 12 in the House of Representatives.
He is, after all, lucky: He is alive.
But these days, he has been compelled to take that story off the shelf and confront it.
In April, he and Sen. Rick Scott , R-Fla., introduced a bill that would promote the research and development of advanced alcohol detection technology and require auto manufacturers to implement it in new car models. A House version of that bill, spearheaded by Rep. Debbie Dingell , D-Mich., was included in a larger infrastructure package that passed the House last year but went nowhere in the Senate. Dingell has reintroduced that bill this year. Many cars already have technology such as driver-monitoring systems that can help prevent drunken driving crashes. In some cases, it’s as easy as coding the automobile’s computers to stop a driver acting erratically. But auto manufacturers have been reluctant to make them a standard feature on all vehicles — a fact that is an outrage to Ken Snyder, executive director of the Shingo Institute at Utah State University. Snyder lost his daughter, Katie Snyder Evans, a mother of six, in 2017 when she was hit by a drunk driver while returning home from a hospital visit with her premature twin girls. “Many of these technologies are available,” he said, adding that the U.S. loses about 10,000 people a year to alcohol and impaired driving accidents. “We’re not going to get off this plateau until we start using technology in this way.”
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