ABI opposes equipping all vehicles with intrusive alcohol-sensing technology that would prevent responsible drivers from operating their vehicle while below the BAC arrest threshold. As Americans begin to share the road with self-driving cars, public and private interests are considering passive alcohol sensors as the next standard road safety technology. However, liability issues render the sensors unlikely to be set at the current .08 legal BAC limit. Standard-feature BAC sensors could be set as low as .03 or .04 percent, introducing a de facto ban on consuming even a single drink with dinner before driving home.
The federal government is currently working with major automakers to develop passive alcohol sensors that can instantly read a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. The program is called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) and the goal over time is to place this technology in every new car, making the technology as standard as seatbelts and airbags. In particular, the technology is being eyed as a means to prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel of a self-driving car, in the event that the driver must reclaim control of the vehicle mid journey.
These sensors are unlikely to be set at the current .08 legal BAC limit. It takes time for the human body to process alcohol. A driver could quickly consume several drinks before getting behind the wheel and still have a BAC level under the legal limit. Over the course of the trip, as his or her body processes the alcohol the driver’s BAC level could rise well above the legal limit. If the driver then causes an accident, carmakers and device manufacturers could be sued for allowing the car to be driven by an individual labeled too drunk to drive.
To avoid this liability, the devices are likely to be set with a “safety margin.” The former head of the DADSS program admitted that the devices will likely be set lower than the legal limit. This setting could be as low as .03 or .04 percent, introducing a de facto ban on consuming a single drink with dinner before driving home.
The devices are also unlikely to work perfectly. Even if manufactured to work 99.9997% of the time (the highest standard), they will still malfunction over 3,000 times per day. That’s sober individuals stranded and drunk drivers allowed to operate their cars.
ABI opposes equipping all vehicles with intrusive alcohol-sensing technology that would prevent responsible drivers from operating their vehicle while below the BAC arrest threshold.