According to the CDC, every day 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. The numbers are sobering — no pun intended — but what can concerned citizens do to lessen the number of fatalities short of getting out the word?
Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) thinks she has the answer. Rice is proposing legislation that would require all new cars to come equipped with a breathalyzer. The device would prevent a vehicle from starting in the event a blood alcohol content over the legal limit was detected.
Rice issued a press release which reads in part:
U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice today announced that she will introduce legislation requiring American automakers to equip all new cars with ignition interlock technology that detects a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) and prevents the engine from starting if the driver’s BAC is above the legal limit. While laws vary across the states, ignition interlock devices are widely required for individuals who are convicted of drunk driving offenses.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that requiring interlock technology in all new vehicles would, over a 15 year implementation period, prevent an estimated 85 percent of drunk driving-related deaths and 84-89 percent of drunk driving-related nonfatal injuries.
The American Beverage Institute (ABI) responded to that study, saying the conclusion that alcohol detection technology should be mandatory is “based on a series of assumptions that are far from reality.”
They argue that even if the technology were successful 99.999966% of the time, there would be 4,000 false positive readings daily. Those motorists would be left stranded due to mechanical error.
Other technologies meant to detect BAC levels in drivers would differ from standard breathalyzers, but are still several years from being available on automobiles. One such device would use sensors to analyze normal breathing in a driver, though it is unclear how it would successfully differentiate between the driver and others in the vehicle.
Not to mention, the technology is an invasive infringement on the liberties of millions of American drivers who don’t drink and drive, or who don’t drink at all. Once again, the government would be looking to force every driver in the nation to submit to a test in the hopes of catching a tiny fraction of miscreants.
The ABI perhaps explains it best:
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.
Then there is the cost factor. An article in New York’s Daily News from 2010 — the year New York State legally mandated that drivers with DUI convictions have breathalyzers installed in their vehicles — placed the cost of installing the interlock device at between $170 and $200, with another per 80 a month for maintenance. That’s a major expense for the vast majority of the 210 million Americans who drive responsibly.
Cross-posted in slightly altered form at the Mental Recession. Howard Portnoy contributed to this report.