An End to Drunk Driving?

Could a new touch sensor device for installation in automobiles, championed by NHTSA officials, put an end to drunk driving?

NHTSA Champions New BAC Sensing Technology

Yesterday,a Washington Post article reported that federal officials have endorsed a new technology that uses touch sensors on the starter button or gear shift to measure the alcohol concentration in the person starting the car, and prevent the ignition from starting if the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at or over the legal limit, which is .08 for drivers 21 or over in most States.

The federal officials quoted in the article claim that the technology will be ready in five years, and that they are not contemplating mandating installation of the equipment in all new cars because they think that the automobile industry will embrace the technology voluntarily. Of course, this is the same NHTSA that has mandated each and every new safety technology as it has come along, such as installation of air bags in multiple seating positions, new air bag technologies, etc.

There are some obvious feasibility questions, such as:

  1. How will the car know if the driver is under 21, in which case the legal limit is much lower, .02 or about one beer, in New Hampshire and most other States?
  2. How will the car know that the person touching the gearshift or starter button is the driver (perhaps a fingerprint sensor that is able to verify whether the person actually operating the car is the same person),
  3. Keep in mind that NHTSA is also advocating lowering the national legal limit to .05, which amounts to, for example, two small (5oz) glasses of white wine for a woman who weighs 140 pounds,
  4. Laws in NH and other States allow for the possibility of a DWI prosecution even when a person's BAC is as low as .04. Toxicologists will tell you that every person is different and a drug-sensitive person with no tolerance to alcohol may indeed be impaired at .04. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that federal regulators would ultimately use this technology to enforce a zero tolerance policy for drinking and then driving.
  5. Will Americans really tolerate this latest encroachment on their privacy by Big Brother?

Drugged DWIs

Even if the technology worked and was installed in all vehicles on the road, it would not put an end to impaired driving. In particular, we have been seeing more and more prescription drug DWIs, and illegal drug DWIs, over the last several years. Has anyone else noticed that there is a Rite Aid or CVS on every single street corner? While drunk drivers are relatively uncommon, it is reasonable to believe that medicated drivers are everywhere, and it appears that they are being prosecuted in higher numbers than ever before.

Death Knell for America's Only Industry that Can't be Outsourced

However, it is reasonable to believe that this technology would sound the death knell for bars and restaurants across New Hampshire, and for the beverage industry generally, and thus it is not surprising that, according to the Washington Post article, restaurant trade associations oppose this initiative.