There’s no doubt that drunk driving causes some serious harm in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 28 people die in drunk driving crashes every day. That’s one person every 52 minutes.
With stats like that, drunk driving is obviously a problem our society needs to address. The question is: how?
According to a number of US Senators, the government needs to step in and spend a ton of cash while forcing new technology on auto manufacturers. This may be an attempt to promote the general welfare of American citizens. But could requiring this tech lead to a violation of privacy rights?
Alcohol-Detection And Driver-Monitoring Technology Is In The Works
According to Car and Driver, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program—which is funded by the federal government—is the leader in the field of driver-intoxication systems. Currently, they have two different anti-drunk driving technology systems in the works.
One is close to the traditional Breathalyzer that LEOs use to check a driver’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). But instead of taking deep breaths, the technology from SenseAir allows the driver to breathe normally.
The other system is way more complex. Instead of breath-based technology, this system uses the driver’s finger to detect alcohol using spectroscopy. That’s a fancy science word for the study of the interaction of light and matter.
Basically, this system will measure the BAC level of a driver using the capillaries in the finger beneath the skin. The device does this by shining a light on the finger to look for an elevated concentration of alcohol.
This Technology Is Baked Into The New $1 Trillion Federal Infrastructure Bill
The federal government has been spending trillions left and right during the pandemic, and now, a few U.S. Senators are ready to dish out another trillion in taxpayer money (also known as future debt for our great-great grandkids) for their new federal infrastructure bill.
Dubbed “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” Senators Tom Udall (D–New Mexico) and Rick Scott (R–Florida) have introduced a piece of legislation that features a whopping 2,702 pages.
Baked inside this massive spending bill is a mandate that “all new passenger vehicles come with passive and unobtrusive alcohol detection systems by the year 2024,” according to The New York Post.
“To ensure the prevention of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology must be standard equipment in all new passenger motor vehicles,” the bill states.
What this means is that the government would force auto manufacturers to equip all new vehicles with tech that will turn an engine off if alcohol impairment is detected.
The bill doesn’t specifically name the technology that should be used or any companies that could produce it. But it does define the tech for impaired driving as anything that could “passively and accurately detect” if someone’s BAC is above the legal limit.
This Is A Good Thing, Right?
Stephanie Manning, the chief government affairs officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), believes that requiring car manufacturers to add this new technology is a good idea because it will keep people safe. She pointed out that this smart technology is passive, so sober drivers won’t even notice it.
“We are not talking about Breathalyzers, we are not talking about ignition interlocks – those are punitive measures,” Manning told The New York Post. “You just get in your car and you go. It doesn’t hassle the sober driver, it doesn’t hassle anybody unless there’s a real problem with being able to safely operate the vehicle.”
This new tech that Manning is advocating for would prevent a car from being started only if the driver’s BAC was over the legal limit of .08. She noted that thousands of people are driving impaired on the road right now, and her organization wants to make sure that “they cannot use their cars as weapons anymore.”
The Tech Isn’t Ready Yet
According to the NHTSA, one of the reasons why this tech isn’t already available in cars is because it first needs to be “seamless, accurate, and precise, and unobtrusive to the sober driver.” It must also be “proven reliable to be installed in the vehicle fleet.”
Basically, they want to make sure there’s zero possibility that people would be locked out of their vehicle because of false results, or labeling them drunk when they’re not. That’s pretty much a deal-breaker, and it should be. Until that issue is fixed, requiring this tech would be a nightmare.
Why The Requirement?
The NHTSA says it’s vital that adding anti-drunk driving tech to cars is “publicly favorable.” However, forcing this kind of smart tech into a personal space would have a lot of consequences, like higher prices for new cars and the potential to use accumulated data in a nefarious way.
Who is looking at this data? Who stores it? What kind of data can this new tech record? Can it be used against you? There are numerous potential privacy violations involved here, all in the name of safety. And that’s the crux of the argument. Is it the government’s job to force behavior? Or, should we be free to make our own choices?
Wouldn’t it make sense just to make this technology available to the marketplace and let consumers decide instead of using force? As the proverb says, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.