Don’t mandate new drunk-driver technology

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 1 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:15 am in
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By The Gazette Editorial Board

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Sometimes, the pursuit of a noble goal can yield some heavy-handed public policy. In this case, the noble goal is zero alcohol-impaired, driving-related deaths. Last month, the National Traffic Safety Bureau endorsed a pair of strategies to help get there.

First, the NTSB called for installing ignition interlock devices on the personal vehicles of all first-offense drunk drivers. We think that would send a strong deterrent message to those drivers and reduce the number of repeat offenders.

Second, the NTSB is encouraging automakers to continue developing passive alcohol detection technology, also known as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS. Unlike interlock breathalyzers, passive technology would use automatic breath and touch-based sensors in the vehicle to determine if the driver has been drinking. Were less enthusiastic about DADSS, especially if it is mandated in every vehicle, as some are advocating.

Mandating that the additional cost of such systems be paid by all to deter those who might drive drunk seems like an federal overreach. Drivers who want the systems should be able to get them, but others should be able to choose.

Choice is key, because many questions remain about the DADSS technology and potential problems. At what blood alcohol level would the vehicle be disabled? Would it be so low that even a driver below the legal impairment level would be unable to drive? Is it possible that a vehicle driven by a sober designated driver wouldnt start because of his drinking passengers? How high is the probability of malfunction?

Its possible that as the technology is developed, these questions will be resolved. Perhaps it will have its most useful role in vehicles such as public buses and transport trucks, where no alcohol level should be tolerated.

We believe the DADSS holds some promise. But were still skeptical of any government move to mandate it in every vehicle.

Its true the government requires all sorts of safety features on vehicles, including seat belts and air bags. But this would seem to go further than making cars and trucks safer for drivers to operate, or improving survivability in an accident.

Its one thing to punish drivers who have broken the law. Its another to mandate costly technology in an attempt to modify the behavior of those who have not.

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