Legislative update on drunk driving bill
Posted on 09/09/2021
Rep. Debbie Dingell addresses the gathering at Cabbagetown Park.On a bitterly cold evening on Jan. 11, 2019, hundreds of family, friends and members of the community gathered in Ford Field holding lit candles to collectively mourn the death of the Abbas family, who were struck head-on in their SUV by a drunk driver as they were heading back from a holiday trip to Florida. Lives that were cut short were Ali, 13, Isabella, 12, and Gisella, 7, and those clipped at their prime were Issam, 42, and Rima, 38, a medical doctor. At that memorial, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, 12th District, said she would put forth legislation with buy-in from automakers to prevent people from being able to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Fast-forward to Sept. 8, 2021, when an intimate group of approximately 35 family and friends gathered at Cabbagetown Park on a warm, sunny afternoon to hear an update on the bill from Dingell and others involved in the legislation. Dingell was a friend of the Abbas family, who were active in the Dearborn community – part of her district.

The U.S. House legislation called the HALT (Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate Drunk Driving) Act (HR 2138), was introduced by Representatives Dingell, David McKinely (R-WV) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY). Rep. Brian K. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) has joined as a cosponsor. The House of Representatives approved the HALT Act during the last Congress in 2020.

The U.S. Congress legislative tracking website states, “This bill directs the Department of Transportation to prescribe a motor vehicle safety standard that requires a motor vehicle to be equipped with an advanced alcohol detection device that (1) determines the blood alcohol concentration of the operator of the vehicle, and (2) prevents the operation of the vehicle if the operator is legally intoxicated.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must implement a program to equip the advanced alcohol detection devices on not less than 1,500 government-owned fleet vehicles by the end of FY2022.”

HALT is now part of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed in the Senate and is now before the House.

The park event was hosted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Stephanie Manning, Chief Government Affairs officer for MADD, spoke on behalf of MADD President Alex Otte, whose flight to Detroit was cancelled at the last minute. She honored and thanked Debbie Dingell for her fierce advocacy.

MADD has worked to slow the deaths due to drunk driving for 41 years. “It’s the power of their stories” that has enabled the organization to achieve so much, Manning said. Yet, “families and communities continue to suffer.” Alex herself was the victim of a drunk driving boating accident. Annually, MADD estimates 9,400 lives could be saved by new legislation to end drunk driving.

Manning said Debbie Dingell is a “true MADD hero” and she was presented with an award for her work on the HALT legislation.

Dingell said she met young kids, ages 8 to 12, who talked to her at a memorial service for the Abbas family and said they were angry and wanted to know what they could do about the fateful accident that took away their friends so suddenly. She “saw the grief of our community,” and vowed to do what she could do legislatively to prevent future tragedies such as that experienced by the Abbas family.

Dingell introduced her colleague in Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, (13th district). Dingell said people often call the two of them, “double trouble,” for the way they take on tough issues.

Talib thanked Dingell for “hitting the ground running.” She said the human impact of these tragedies is what motivates people to want to prevent them from happening. She told the audience that she was close friends with Rima and saw the relationship blossom as Rima dated her future husband Issam. In a voice faltered by tears, she said, “Lives lost are leading to meaningful change.”

Rana Abbas Taylor and her husband Tom Taylor also stood in front of the microphone. “Ali, Isabella and Gisella’s friends and neighbors have been wonderful. How grateful we are for having this community wrap its arms around us,” Rana said.

Rana recalled when Dingell first mentioned legislation to curb drunk drivers, she thought it was a nice gesture. “But it was so much more than a gesture. She had to gear up for a fight. She has not had an easy road and has not wavered in her commitment. But, no other family will have to suffer the way that we have. It’s giving us a reason to live.”

Rana testified for the subcommittee headed by Sen. Gary Peters, who is working on a related bill in the Senate. According to MADD, “The bipartisan RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone) Act in the U.S. Senate calls for a process that will lead to drunk driving prevention technology as standard equipment in new vehicles in a few years. The bill was introduced by Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) and Rick Scott (R-Florida), both members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.” Peters was represented at this event by his regional director Chris Matus.

Mayor Brian Turnbull, a friend of the family, was also at the event.

That dark, cold night in 2019 has sparked a ray of sunshine as the community and legislative leaders came together to turbo-charge legislation intended to make road travel safer for everyone – babies, children, teens, young families, couples, and seniors.

About the photo: From left, Mayor Brian Turnbull, Rep. Tlaib, Rana Abbas Taylor, Tom Taylor, Rep. Dingell, parents Fatima and Abbas Abbas, and Chris Matus. Photo by Liz Cezat.

group of people in park posing in front of a large family photo