Washington, D.C. (August 6, 2021)—A provision included in the infrastructure package currently moving through Congress directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to mandate automakers install alcohol detection devices in all new vehicles as standard equipment. Congress should reconsider including the provision in a bill that is supposedly targeted at repairing roads and bridges. The Senate is set to vote on the legislation over the weekend before it moves to the House.
Fifty million taxpayer dollars have funded the research and development of this technology, which aims to use a series of sensors throughout the cabin of a vehicle to passively measure a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If a BAC reading is too high, the engine would be disabled. The technology is far from perfect. Device malfunctions will leave some sober Americans marooned in a parking lot while reassuring some seriously impaired drivers that it’s acceptable to hit the road. The strategy to curtail drunk driving is good in theory, but in practice will leave drivers in vulnerable, if not outright, dangerous situations.
The American Beverage Institute (ABI) released the following statement:
Mandating the installation of alcohol detection devices in all new vehicles as standard equipment is an overstep by Congress that will have major unintended consequences. The effort to address substance abusers that cause needless death on U.S. roadways is admirable, but good intentions don’t overcome imperfect technology.
These alcohol measurement devices would need to perform quickly at an extremely high degree of accuracy. Considering the harsh conditions that vehicle components must endure, including constant road vibrations and dramatic temperature shifts, it’s not difficult to imagine unmaintained delicate measurement instruments providing faulty BAC readings that are either too high or too low. Even more simplistic breathalyzers currently used by law enforcement must be regularly calibrated to be adequate evidence during a DWI prosecution.
At the claimed Six Sigma level of precision, or 99.99966 percent accurate, it’s estimated that over 3,000 false readings will occur daily if these devices were installed in all vehicles. That includes dangerously impaired substance abusers who are wrongly assured that it’s safe to drive, as well as responsible consumers who would be left stranded in a parking lot.
Road safety has improved dramatically since the 1980s with DWI fatalities falling by half, but there’s room for improvement. Remaining substance abusers coupled with the rise of drugged driving associated with legalized marijuana has complicated the threats Americans face on the road. Mandating dangerously unreliable technology for all drivers at their financial expense is not the solution.