WASHINGTON - A coalition of companies and industry groups -- including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, AAA and American Trucking Associations -- is urging Congress to fund an advanced drunk driving detection research program. 

Last week, the coalition sent a letter to representatives John Mica (R-Fla.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), calling for inclusion of the ROADS SAFE (Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-Related Fatalities Everywhere) legislation in the safety portion of the surface transportation measure under development by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica and Rahall both serve on the committee. Mica is committee chairman.

The bill was introduced by representatives Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.).

The Senate version of this legislation was introduced by senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). A version of their measure was approved last year by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as part of broader legislation.

The coalition estimates that the legislation, if passed, would fund a program that could lead to more than 8,000 fewer highway fatalities each year and a nationwide economic cost savings of approximately $130 billion annually.

The letter states that the legislation "would authorize the transfer of currently unused safety funds at a rate of $12 million annually for five years to support and expand the ongoing DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety) research program currently being undertaken by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and leading automakers."

The program's goal is to develop vehicle technology to instantaneously detect whether a driver is drunk (above the legal limit of .08 BAC) and prevent the vehicle from starting if she or he is in fact drunk.

The technology "must also be extremely accurate, inexpensive and a non-invasive optional safety feature," the letter adds.

Groups and companies signing the letter included AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Allstate Insurance, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Automotive Policy Council, American Highway Users Alliance, American International Automobile Dealers Association, American Trucking Associations, Association of Global Automakers, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Governors Highway Safety Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, National Beer Wholesalers Association, National Organizations for Youth Safety, National Safety Council, Nationwide Insurance, Safe Kids USA, State Farm Mutual Insurance Company, the Century Council and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.