Today, the American Beverage Institute (ABI) responded to a new study out of the University of Michigan advocating in favor of installing alcohol-sensing technology in every car in the U.S. with the following statement by Managing Director Sarah Longwell:

The recommendation that all cars should come pre-installed with alcohol detection technology is misguided, and its eye-popping life-saving potential is based on a series of assumptions that are far from reality.

First of all, the study assumes that the technology would work 100 percent of the time, which is extremely unlikely. Even if these devices meet Six Sigma standards – i.e., they meet the necessary requirements for widespread installation by working properly 99.999966 percent of the time – there will still be 4,000 misreadings per day. That’s thousands of people stranded on a daily basis, unable to start their cars – or worse, drunken drivers who are able to get behind the wheel.Furthermore, the study acknowledges that “because universal alcohol ignition interlocks are still under development, the effectiveness of the device is not known.” This means researchers are basing their calculations and recommendations on technology that doesn’t currently exist, the limitations and effectiveness of which are still unknown.

And car buyers will be nonplussed to find out that these devices would add $400 to the cost of each new vehicle, according to the researchers’ estimates.

But the most important question is where the technology will be set. Basic physiology dictates that these devices will be calibrated to be set well below the current legal limit of 0.08 BAC. It can take a couple of hours for a person to reach peak blood alcohol content after he or she stops drinking. This means that you could have five drinks and still have a blood alcohol concentration level below 0.08 when you started your car. But your blood alcohol level would continue to rise and you could potentially cross the 0.08 BAC legal threshold while you were driving, climbing to levels well beyond the legal limit. Should that driver then get into an automobile accident, manufacturers of the technology and car companies could both be held legally liable in civil cases, at the very least. To avoid such litigation, the alcohol detection devices will have to be set well below the legal limit and could be set so low as to prohibit drivers from having even a small amount of alcohol prior to driving. A former director with the federal program developing the technology conceded as much in 2009 to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

ABI continues to believe that technology is a meaningful part of the solution to the drunk driving problem in the United States, however, we should be utilizing technology to target the hardcore drunk drivers—high BAC and multiple offenders—who cause the vast majority of alcohol-related fatalities, not treating all Americans like criminals every time they start their cars

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