NHTSA is seriously considering a mandate to put breathalyzers in every single new car on the road.
Not only is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considering it, they’ve been funding its research since 2008 with millions already invested.
Sure, DADDS it’s impractical, inconvenient and ineffective, but more importantly, it stands to actually increase road deaths.
It Wouldn’t Even Work
Sniffing the air…
The primary sensor simply checks the air in the car. They say it can only detect the driver’s breath, but this is simply impossible and certainly so at the $200 price point manufacturers suggestt. This can be circumvented by rolling the windows down and cranking up the vents.
Subdermal Alcohol Sensing Touch Pads
The secondary sensor can monitor a finger tip for alcohol content, which would easily be bypassed by the use of a hot dog or passenger’s finger.
Blow & Go While Driving?
There is discussion that the final sensor would require the driver to blow, with no way to determine if it’s the driver or passenger doing so.
That’s big time distracted driving, but without cameras to monitor who is actually blowing, it could as easily be a passenger, even a child. A child climbing over the driver to fake a blow test creates a whole new level of danger.
Any attempts to catch these easy, obvious circumventions would result in increased cost, increased driver distraction, and diminished practicality.
Every Older Car on the Road
There will still be over 254 million cars on the road without these sensors. Even a casual drinker will stick with a used car over a new one that’s likely to interfere with normal, everyday operation.
Endless False-Positive Tests
The air sniffer would pick up the breath of anyone in the car as well as hand sanitizer, heavy cologne and an array of other compounds. No matter how responsible the driver, they will run afoul of the air sensor sooner than later.
The hand sensor is prone to the same failures. There are any number of substances which could contain trace amounts of alcohol, like sweet & sour sauce from dinner or a leftover bit of tiramisu on the fingers. False positives again.
Great, so we fall back to the breathalyzer, right? This is well established science, and while it’s not prone to false negatives, it is very, very prone to false positives.
According to the website of national interlock company LifeSafer, “You can fail an (Ignition Interlock Device) breath test for one of several reasons. It might be that you used an alcohol-based mouthwash, or fermentation has turned a bit of fruit juice in your mouth to alcohol. Even the fermentation of yeast in bread or pizza dough could supply an alcohol molecule or two, could be enough to cause a fail.” (Emphasis mine.)
They know it fails. Fruit juice, pizza and bread, bread!?! Who among us hasn’t gone to the drive through and eaten something on a bun? Designated drivers across the country would become the new face of DUIs since their cabin air has alcohol and their breath has a hint of a Sourdough Jack.
Industry Supports this Technology!
Of course they do, it’s huge business for them. The reason LifeSafer and other Interlock companies don’t work to improve the reliability of their systems is that there is huge money to be made in false positives.
When you get a false positive, you have to go in and pay a lockout fee. You won’t find this fee on their website, oddly, even when you look at three different
pricing pages, including the one about
hidden costs charged by their competitors.
According to consumer complaints it’s $50 for a five minute reset and it adds up to four months to the time you have to have it in your vehicle. There’s good money in these failures, and that link lists tons of them.
The automotive suppliers all support it too. At an estimated cost of $200 per car (which seems dubiously low,) that would amount to $3.5 billion a year for the 18ish million cars sold in the US alone, plus retrofit opportunities on hundreds of millions more.
That doesn’t count the costs of monitoring and false positive resets. While no interlock company has a monopoly on the market, they all charge almost exactly the same rates. None claim to be the price leader, despite it being very old technology.
This Will Cost More Lives
The system only kicks in at .08, which is an absolute minimum, though a false one. An inexperienced drinker may be severely impaired at .07, worthy of rightful arrest, but confident to drive based on passing the test.
Someone on allergy medication with one beer in his system will feel comfortable driving despite what may be deadly impairment.
This would drastically increase distracted driving, which already kills a third as many as impaired driving. Now let’s take the 660,000 already on their cellphones at any given daylight moment and compound it with additional hoops to jump through.
A Solution Without A Problem
Many of the DUI deaths currently are not the result of alcohol, but other legal and illegal substances, and this will do nothing to address them.
According to the CDC, “In 2010, over 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That’s one percent of the 112 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.
Let’s crunch that down to fatality rates.
For each 100 DUI arrests, there is less than one fatality.
For each 10,000 instances of impaired driving, there is less than one fatality.
But on MADD’s Drunk Driving Statistics page the numbers are even less alarming.
If “an average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before first arrest” surely the bodies would be littering the streets.
“In 2012, 29.1 million people admitted to driving under the influence.” That’s not instances, but individuals, and those are just the numbers they’ll admit to. Again, for such a travesty on humanity, surely the streets should run red with the blood of the innocent.
On the Statistics page it says “Each day 300,000 people drive drunk, but fewer than 4,000 are arrested.”
Let’s crunch those numbers.
That’s a 1% chance of being arrested and a .009% chance of causing a fatality.
I understand this is small comfort when it’s your child or sibling who is lost, but we will never get to zero fatalities, and this inherently flawed technology will only cause more problems while driving down vehicle affordability and utility.
We Already Have the Solution
The technology already exists, and it’s expected on showroom floors in less than five years; self-driving cars.
There need never be another death from distracted driving, drunk driving, drugged driving, excessive speed or any of the myriad shortcomings humans suffer.
We don’t need to punish all drivers for the actions of a tiny fraction.
If the goal is punishment, be honest about it. You won’t get as much support, but at least you’ll have your dignity.
If the goal is safety, don’t push regressive technologies that complicate everyone’s lives.