Sen. Tom Udall
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is the lead player in a legislative effort, already endorsed by a handful of other senators, that would spend $60 million to develop a program that would charge consumers for the costs of installing drunk-driving interlock devices in vehicles.
The proposal, S.510, was introduced this week in the U.S. Senate by Udall, who was joined by Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Al Franken, D-Minn., Amy Klobuchar D-Minn., West John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
The legislation actually doesn’t call for the technology to be installed in every vehicle but urges “more widespread deployment of in-vehicle technology to prevent alcohol-impaired driving.”
The device already is ordered into use sometimes by courts addressing cases of drunk drivers who offend repeatedly.
The proposal delivers $12 million to promoters of the program in each of five years for what the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration calls the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.
The “fact sheet” posted by the federal agency describes the interest in “technologies that will quickly and accurately measure a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in a non-invasive manner. If the system detects that a driver is drunk, the vehicle will be disabled from being driven.”
It has been suggested that a tissue spectrometry program, a touch-based approach in which sensors would measure the level of alcohol in tissue, might be used. Or the program might use the infrared light spectrum to “detect alcohol concentration in the driver’s exhaled breath.”
“The DADSS research is still in the early stages and it is premature to discuss when the technology will be available for general use, although we’ve heard from the auto industry that it is reasonable to expect that it could begin to be integrated into vehicles in approximately 8 to 10 years,” the analysis states.
“The goal over time is to equip all passenger vehicles in the United States with the technology, since without full implementation the benefits will be reduced,” it explains.
The bill, however, is drawing strong opposition from defenders of personal rights, responsibilities and privacy, as well as business interests.
“The bill’s sponsors and supporters claim the alcohol detectors would be voluntary and set at .08 [percent blood alcohol content], but there is a mountain of evidence showing that their true goal is to put alcohol sensing technology in all cars as original equipment, set well below the .08 level,” said Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute.
Her organization, one of several to raise concerns about the idea, represents thousands of restaurants and other businesses who cater to citizens who drink responsibly and drive carefully.
“Putting alcohol detectors in all cars would effectively eliminate Americans’ ability to have a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a ball game, or a champagne toast at a wedding and drive home, because the devices will be set well below the legal limit,” said Longwell. “We all want to get dangerous drunk drivers off the roads, but to do this we should focus on policies that target drunk drivers, not all Americans.”
Longwell told WND that there probably are 100 ways for the technology to backfire, misfire or simply be wrong.
She said the only real way to crack down on drunk driving accidents is to go after drunk drivers.
The government now is running a bait-and-switch, she said, in which the proposal is presented as money for research when all that really needs to be determined is how to get consumers to agree to pay for the technology that already exists and have it required in vehicles.
She said Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which also is supporting the measure, also has said the technology should be in all passengers vehicles.
Another problem she cited is the level at which the sensors would be set. Many states have .08 percent as the legal limit for blood alcohol content. But sensors likely would have to be set lower than that, maybe even half the level, to include a “safety margin.”
That’s because of the nature of sensors and equipment, which could allow someone with a reading of .085 to drive even if the sensor is set for .08.
Sarah Ferguson of the DADSS program told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the limits for such sensors would have to be set to include a safety margin.
In the column by Patrick McIlheran, he said, however, the biggest question about the issue is: “Just why would your government presume – to the point of making you pass a test to drive your car – that you’re an irresponsible drunk?”
Udall, in announcing the legislation, reported on his website that it “will help keep Americans safe on the road by spurring the development of new technologies to prevent – and hopefully eliminate – drunk driving crashes in the future.”
He cited support from several groups that fight drunk driving.
“This is an important research program that holds the promise of eliminating drunk driving if the necessary funding is made available,” Laura Dean-Monney, national president for MADD, said in the senator’s statement.
The bill itself acknowledges the major problem it faces, explaining “alcohol detection technologies will not be widely accepted by the public unless they are moderately priced, absolutely reliable, and set at a level that would not prevent a driver whose blood alcohol content is less than the legal limit from operating a vehicle.”
Longwell, however, said there is a “mountain” of evidence that the true plan is to require sensing technology as a feature on all vehicles.
The InterlockFacts.com website, where the dispute is being monitored, said “the universal application of ignition interlocks will translate into a de facto Prohibition. Soon, anti-alcohol groups and the auto and interlock industries will overcome the technological and regulatory barriers to making these devices standard equipment … Universal ignition interlocks will be set at low enough levels to prevent adults from having even one drink prior to driving.”
An analysis from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers cited by the website said even if the machines were made to government accuracy standards, “there would still be almost 4,000 cases of misreadings per day. That’s thousands of people trying to go to work, school, or about their business who could find their car locked down by a faulty interlock.”
The privacy implications are stunning, too, the report said.
“Today’s interlocks record each breath sample and can report how many times the driver attempts to start his or her vehicle after drinking,” the report said. “Similarly, NHTSA has argued that universal interlocks should have the same capacity regarding non-convicted drivers.”
It quotes an NHTSA statement that says, “One concept employs alcohol-vapor sensors installed in vehicles that can communicate their data to police. The data stream would contain vehicle identifiers as well as alcohol concentrations. A low-cost, short-range service such as WiFi Max or similar would be used as the link. Police could use notebook computers or personal digital assistants (PDAs) to receive data.”
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