Today, the Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) joined Members of Congress, automakers, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to highlight the technological advances in the Drivers Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program—a partnership between automakers and the federal government to develop passive, in-car alcohol sensors. You can view NHTSA’s video explaining the new technology here.
The American Beverage Institute (ABI), a restaurant trade association representing over 8,000 of America’s favorite family restaurants, opposes the DADSS program. ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell released the following statement:
Today, NHTSA, MADD, and major automakers presented what they claim will be a voluntary system to prevent a driver from starting his or her vehicle when at or above the current legal BAC limit of .08—a description that directly contradicts their own past statements.
DADSS’s developers and supporters want the technology to be mandatory in all new vehicles. As a NHTSA fact sheet on the technology stated, ‘The goal over time is to equip all passenger vehicles in the United States with the technology.’ Last year, then-MADD president Jan Withers said she hoped DADSS would be an option ‘like seat belts and air bags once were options’ and eventually became standard.
Furthermore, DADSS very likely won’t be set at .08. Even if a driver is below the .08 threshold when the vehicle is started, it takes our bodies time to metabolize alcohol and a driver’s BAC level can easily rise while driving. This potential liability issues is why Susan Ferguson, a former program manager of DADSS, conceded that the devices will be set with a safety margin.
Technology is an important tool in the fight against drunk driving, but it must be targeted correctly and properly monitored. Nearly every state requires repeat drunk drivers to install ignition interlocks, but with inadequate funding for follow-up and monitoring actual compliance rates are abysmal. ‘Voluntary’ passive alcohol sensors like DADSS will do nothing to keep these dangerous drivers off our roads. Instead, DADSS will simply stop many responsible social drinkers who have a glass of wine with dinner from starting their cars.