Roughly 70 percent of drunk driving fatalities are caused by drivers with extremely high blood alcohol levels of .15 or higher (nearly twice the legal limit of .08). ABI supports anti-drunk driving policies that focus on getting these hardcore drunk drivers off the roads and opposes policy proposals that instead target responsible social drinkers.
Alcohol Sensing Technology in All Cars
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.
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 over the legal BAC limit.
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, making it hard for most drivers to have a single drink before driving.
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 the quest to place this intrusive technology in all cars.
Lowering the Legal Limit
The current legal BAC limit for driving in the United States is .08 percent. To put that impairment in perspective, research has shown that talking on a hands-free cellphone impairs drivers to the same degree as driving at the .08 legal limit.
The National Transportation Safety Board, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, and other organizations, support lowering the legal limit from .08 to .05.
ABI is strongly opposed to lowering the legal limit. A woman can reach the .05 legal limit with as little as one drink. Instead of deterring the most dangerous drivers from getting behind the wheel while heavily intoxicated, a .05 legal limit discourages responsible drinkers from having a single drink with dinner before getting behind the wheel.
Ignition interlocks are devices that require drivers to prove their sobriety before driving. In most states, convicted drunk drivers are required or strongly encouraged to install these devices on their cars to regain driving privileges. While ABI supports the use of ignition interlocks for repeat offenders and first-time offenders with BAC levels of .15 or higher, ABI opposes laws requiring low-BAC, first-time offenders to install interlocks.
Ignition interlocks only work while the devices are installed on an offender’s car. Once the device is taken off, offenders re-offend at the same rate as those who never installed an interlock. States struggle to enforce ignition interlock mandates—NHTSA estimates only 15-20 percent of offenders actually comply with their sentences and install interlocks on their cars.
These limitations are why states should use their limited financial resources on following up with the repeat and high-BAC offenders who pose the greatest danger on the road. Instead of spreading parole officers thin by requiring low-BAC, first-time offenders to install interlocks, states should first ensure the most dangerous offenders comply with interlock orders.
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