A bill before the US Senate would pay for research into a passive alcohol detecting device that could become standard in all vehicles in the future. But serious questions exist if all cars can stop you from driving if you trigger the alcohol detector, and what the legal implications of such a supposedly “voluntary” system would be.
The bill would have a goal of having an accurate alcohol impairment monitoring device ready to be used in new cars in 5 years.
But the Smart Start interlock device is a court mandated systems to track those already convicted of DUI in California, and not a voluntary preventative warning. The goals are clearly different, but questions remain.
- Would these devices be set to prevent the car from starting at the legal limit of .08, or lower as a warning?
- Would these devices report” failures” to police?
- How much would they cost?
- Who would voluntarily pay extra for such a device in their new car?
- Would they eventually become mandatory safety devices required by law, like safety belts and air bags?
Beverage industry lobbyists are unsurprisingly wary of these systems, concerned that they could prevent people from consuming a drink or two with dinner, and being able to drive their car home, depending on the settings of these supposedly unobtrusive, passive systems. And there would certainly be a preventative effect from anyone who has one in their car. Especially if they are worried about what happens if they are half a drink over whatever level their own car thinks warrants a warning.
Everyone is against drunk driving. Seriously impaired drivers do kill people on the roads, and continue to be a threat to public safety, despite evidence that drunk driving is on the decline nationwide.
But there is a world of difference between serious alcoholics unable to exercise any judgement or concerns about safety and the law, and everyday people who should legally be allowed to have a drink or two and are perfectly capable of getting themselves home.
We need to make sure that the law keeps this critical distinction in mind.